Mayfield running out of good will
In the court of public opinion, Jeremy Mayfield just fell flat on his face. Big time.
NASCAR officials said Mayfield has tested positive again for methamphetamine on a sample given July 6. Yes, again.
His attorneys, of course, say it's a mistake. Again. Their lab test last week was negative, they claim.
But Mayfield's cries of innocence have become much harder to believe now.
For the moment, this is a huge vindication for NASCAR. It never should have come to this, a two-month fiasco of accusations and procedural mistakes that became the focus of the sport.
Part of that will continue, unfortunately. Mayfield's lawsuit against NASCAR will go on regardless of the latest setback. But his defenders are a far smaller group today.
Would NASCAR and its testing lab be so incompetent as to mess this up twice? Many more people now will feel they didn't mess it up the first time.
To think otherwise at this point is to believe that NASCAR officials are deliberately framing an innocent man. Either that or their testing methods and doctors are completely lacking in credibility.
And it isn't just the test this time. Mayfield's stepmother, Lisa Mayfield, has accused him of being a longtime user of meth.
Now a lot of guys don't get along with their stepmother, but this goes far beyond a family feud. To believe Mayfield is innocent is to believe his stepmother would purposely frame him for committing a serious crime.
Too many negatives are piling up on Mayfield, so many that it becomes almost impossible to talk them away.
Plenty of people who follow NASCAR want to believe Mayfield. He always has been a good guy, a polite, well-mannered Southern gentleman who represented the sport in a positive light for many years.
But it doesn't look good now. The evidence against him is almost impossible to ignore.
This time, he can't just say he tested positive for meth because of a false positive from a combination of Claritin-D and Adderall. If he actually was naive enough to combine those two again (assuming he did do so the first time when he tested positive in early May) he should be suspended anyway.
NASCAR filed papers Wednesday asking the court to reverse Mayfield's injunction and reinstate his suspension.
Whether that happens or not, Mayfield isn't returning to the driver's seat anytime soon. In all likelihood, that never will happen.
He has no money to field his own team, and no other team is going to hire him.
Mayfield's career in NASCAR probably is over for good. The sad thing is it didn't have to turn out that way.
Had Mayfield accepted the original positive test, he could have gone through a rehab program and returned to the track, if not this year, certainly in 2010.
But Mayfield insisted he was innocent and decided to take legal action. He said NASCAR's testing policy was flawed, and he hired one of the best attorneys in the country -- Bill Diehl -- to argue his point.
And Mayfield was right. NASCAR's new random testing procedures and policies have some flaws. No banned list of substances; no independent lab verification.
But that doesn't mean Mayfield was innocent. It simply means NASCAR needs to rectify a few issues with how the system works.
Without question, switching to a random testing plan was the right thing to do, far better than the old system of reasonable suspicion before testing a driver.
Mayfield would be racing today under the previous system. No one would have the slightest clue that he possibly could be impaired.
Even with the second positive result, some doubts remain. This is a man who angrily defended himself in an ESPN.com story last week. "All I got is the truth," Mayfield said. "That's all I got. All I can do is tell the truth, and I'm sick and tired of reading a bunch of lies. I want to do everything in my power to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from here on out."
The truth. It would be wonderful for everyone to know the truth once and for all. But we have heard this before from other athletes.
Rafael Palmeiro sat in the halls of Congress, pointed his finger at senators and said: "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."
Five months later, while playing for the Baltimore Orioles, Palmeiro was suspended after testing positive for steroids.
So many times through the years, we've heard athletes say, "I didn't do it" when in the end it was proved that they did. Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones is another example.
Mayfield presumably will continue to say he is an innocent man. Maybe he is, but his pleas of injustice just became much harder to believe.
His legal case in the courts goes on, but in the court of public opinion, Mayfield is losing ground.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.