Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Jeremy Mayfield Drama Exposes NASCAR’s Credibility Problem

It has been interesting to read the articles and comments devoted to the Jeremy Mayfield mess. The surprise is the amount of fans in Mayfield’s corner. Some are lashing out at the institution of NASCAR as if it were a driver who had just wrecked their hero; others are presenting reasonable and thoughtful scenarios where Mayfield truly could be innocent.

FOX Sports conducted a poll asking people who they believe in the controversy. 25% sided with Mayfield. That isn’t a majority, but it’s a lot for a guy who failed two drug tests. But forget the poll – why does FOX even ask the question?

Mayfield, as everyone knows, has fiercely denied using banned substances. As did Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and just about any other athlete who was suspected. And with the athletes who do get caught, the pattern is generally the same: denials, excuses, baffling stories about how it happened that make it anyone’s fault but the athlete’s. The story is almost predictable by now.

See also
Enough Already: Jeremy Mayfield's Latest Failure

Athletes failing a drug test and then proclaiming their innocence or astounding ignorance is not new. The main reason for it is that failing a drug test is profoundly embarrassing. If you’re in the public eye like an Alex Rodriguez and you get busted, chances are pretty good your mother will find out. And so an athlete makes a statement or two at least partially deflecting responsibility for it. But generally the public doesn’t buy it… like some are with Mayfield. In other sports, athletes are basically guilty until proven innocent.

If Mayfield were getting crucified in the court of public opinion, there might be a lot of different things happening. But he really isn’t. There are some writers and people giving interviews that believe he has a problem and compassionately say he should get out now. Very few, if any at all, have spoken of Mayfield and his reaction with the disdain shown for the Barry Bonds types of the world.

Our own Tom Bowles made the case earlier this week for at least waiting until all the facts come in before making a judgment, in light of NASCAR’s handling of the Tim Richmond case. I’m fine with that. But he is one of the few to even bring Richmond’s name into it. Whatever the merits of NASCAR’s case against Richmond, this was 20 years ago, and I doubt most of the folks with a take on the Mayfield case were even following NASCAR then.

In baseball, football and other sports, I have yet to see the validity of a drug test questioned. There are other ridiculous excuses made – yes, my arms doubled in size the day after the injection my highly recommended doctor gave me, but no, of course I never made the connection – but baseball and football have yet to have their integrity seriously challenged in this regard. This is a whole new reaction, and apparently, NASCAR is vulnerable to such accusations.

It seems obvious that NASCAR and Aegis labs have nothing to gain and everything to lose by doctoring up evidence in order to remove Mayfield from the track, especially the second time around when everyone is watching. Mayfield is suggesting exactly that and screaming his innocence from the rooftops, but he has offered little in the way of what NASCAR’s motive would be for destroying his career and his life.

A participant in a sport failed two drug tests… something I haven’t often seen with athletes not named Steve Howe… and there are still plenty of fans and even some writers who are in doubt about his guilt. Looking at all of the facts I could find, it looks as though NASCAR has their legal ducks in a row, while Mayfield has loud denials and his own negative drug tests at a lab recommended by his lawyer – and that lab won’t comment on the validity of their tests.

But that isn’t even relevant. NASCAR doesn’t have to allow someone who passes drug tests at a lab specified by his lawyer on the track to race. They’re an employer. They can decide who participates.

Reading NASCAR’s affidavit – most of which has thus far been challenged weakly at best by Mayfield and his attorney – gives a very strong impression that Mayfield did everything he could to stall – getting lost trying to find the lab, then saying he didn’t need to go, not answering phones and not calling the lab. Then he finally produced a sample that was diluted from drinking lots of water. Mayfield has said his sample was “spiked.” If he is guilty, he is digging one deep hole.

And that’s an interesting point that I’ve come to… reading affidavits containing all of the details on how a drug test was performed. Can’t say I did that with Manny Ramirez, and he only failed one test. So it’s curious why NASCAR seems to have so little credibility here when compared to other sports, especially considering that if any sport ought to be drug testing, it’s NASCAR.

Maybe it’s because the drug-testing program is new and Mayfield is its first high-profile victim. I don’t know if NASCAR was expecting the repeated denials and backlash from Mayfield. But it does seem as though they were prepared for once, documenting all of the events surrounding the second drug test and testing the second time in a manner that would exclude false positives, which Mayfield had claimed turned up in the original test. So far there haven’t been a lot of holes in NASCAR’s case, although I do have doubts about Mayfield’s stepmother.

Or it could be that NASCAR fans tend to be in the participants’ corner more because NASCAR hasn’t had the labor struggles baseball and other sports have had… and so drivers haven’t been tagged with the millionaire prima-donna label as much. Few things are more despicable to people who are struggling with mortgage payments than seeing multi-millionaires who play a game for a living on a picket line. And athletes in such sports take a PR hit for it.

NASCAR drivers are often pampered millionaires too, but at least they show up for work. And so, at least, that damage isn’t done to their public persona that would tip the scales against them in other matters.

It may be that Jeremy Mayfield is innocent and may someday really be a hero for pointing out substantial flaws in current methods of drug testing. But I didn’t see Aaron Fike or Shane Hmiel protesting their results and insisting that their sample was “spiked” or conducting their own independent lab tests. It’s doubtful that they would have kept their mouths shut for the good of the sport.

Or it may just ultimately be that NASCAR really does have a credibility problem – not just with the Carl Long fiasco, where NASCAR basically killed a flea with a nuclear weapon – but with all those little things that get fans’ goats, things like questionable debris cautions and selective rule enforcement. Every time a yellow flag flies for debris, people are wondering who was about to go a lap down and got saved, or who needed to catch up to the leader.

Reports of Dale Earnhardt Jr. being about to go a lap down just before a debris caution are often found in message boards on Mondays. When no less an authority as Tony Stewart complains about it, why would fans be nuts to suspect a conspiracy? Justified or not, things are often perceived that way.

Who’s to say? It just seems strange that I’ve never seen a baseball or football player fail a league-sanctioned drug test not once, but twice, and still have a sizable chunk of fans and even some reporters in his corner.

Somewhere Tim Richmond is laughing.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Jeff Gordon insists that there won’t be a repeat of the tire issues that turned last year’s Indianapolis event into NASCAR’s worst race ever. Well I should hope not. They’d have to shut down their citizen journalist site in a hurry.
  • Well, Dewalt is ending its 10-year tradition of sponsoring the No. 17, as reported in today’s newsletter. Too bad. That would make the Dupont-Gordon-24 team the last sponsor-driver-number combo over 10 years old, would it not? I know Miller has been with the No. 2 for a while, but not with one driver. And Michael Waltrip changed numbers.
  • Kasey Kahne is making his 200th start this weekend. Wow, does time freakin’ fly. Wasn’t he battling for his first win in just the second race of his full-time career five minutes ago? Congrats to Kasey and the No. 9 team.
  • And congratulations to White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle on that rarest of rarities yesterday, a perfect game. Just the 18th in baseball history. However, no one has yet to equal Harvey Haddix.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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