Commentary

Mayfield adds another ring to circus

Updated: July 2, 2009, 8:00 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Jeremy Mayfield may be back on the track at Daytona this weekend, probably sticking his tongue out at NASCAR officials as he drives by the start-finish line.

Mayfield got his temporary injunction Wednesday in court, a surprise decision that throws NASCAR's entire substance abuse policy into question.

What happens now? Does every driver who tests positive file an injunction to erase his suspension and get back in the race car? It worked for Mayfield.

Unless the injunction is overturned on an appeal, Mayfield is free to race until a trial decides his case. His attorney, Bill Diehl, said that might take a year.

So NASCAR's authority to enforce its policy on substance abuse has been severely compromised. Today's decision leaves almost everyone wondering what NASCAR can and can't do to enforce its rules.

No one except Mayfield knows for sure if he took methamphetamines. He says he didn't, that it was a false positive from mixing two legal drugs. NASCAR's doctors say that isn't possible.

We don't know. And other drivers don't know either. He has to qualify first, but what will other drivers be thinking while running side by side with Mayfield on Saturday night at 200 mph in a large pack of cars, even if a new test comes out clean?

Doubt is everywhere, on every future drug test and around every turn on a racetrack.

NASCAR may win this case in the long run, but for now, it has a flawed system with a gigantic loophole for suspected violators to jump through. NASCAR has been slapped in the face for trying to do the right thing in improving its drug policy this season.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Mayfield
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJeremy Mayfield, right, smiles as he leaves the federal courthouse with his attorney, Bill Diehl, on Wednesday. A judge lifted Mayfield's suspension, saying the NASCAR driver should be allowed to race.

The old testing system of "reasonable suspicion" came under heavy scrutiny last year when Aaron Fike admitted he raced in the truck series while taking heroin. In the aftermath of that news, many Cup drivers said they never had been tested for drug abuse.

This season NASCAR went to a random testing system, where several drivers are tested at each race, not knowing when or where the test will come.

It's something that should have happened years ago, but it was a major improvement in substance-abuse detection.

However, now the system needs clarification. A first step is to provide a detailed list of banned substances. NASCAR had avoided doing this, wanting to keep its options open in case a driver was impaired by a substance not on the list.

Things always can be added later, but a definitive list seems inevitable now.

The testing procedure also has been called into question. Bill Diehl, Mayfield's attorney, said his client's backup urine sample should have been sent to an independent lab for testing. It wasn't initially, although it was done later to verify the results.

All these things must be re-evaluated or NASCAR risks going through this incredible sideshow all over again.

And now one of NASCAR's biggest events, the July 4 night race at Daytona, becomes a secondary topic for the entire weekend.

Mayfield is the show, assuming he qualifies for the race. Even if he doesn't, he's the main story until the green flag drops.

The man NASCAR officials say endangered his fellow competitors and broke the rules has a free pass to race again. Maybe that's justice; maybe it isn't. But NASCAR's new drug policy is in jeopardy.

Either Mayfield fooled them all and outsmarted his accusers, or NASCAR has punished an innocent man with a drug enforcement procedure that seems to have Mr. Magoo in charge.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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