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Take the cloak off NASCAR's drug policy

5/22/2009 - NASCAR

I yearn for the day my beautiful daughter deciphers day from night. I need a nap.

Marty,

I have followed Jeremy Mayfield since his days in the 95 Shoney's car. I cannot wrap my mind about him doing anything illegal, especially drugs. I applaud you for trying to find out what he tested for. So why is it that the NFL will come out and say what is banned and what a player tests positive for, but NASCAR will not?

They say it is to protect JM's privacy. If it is a combination of prescription and an OTC drug like JM says then how will it affect NASCAR when it comes out that a major sponsor of NASCAR is on the banned list? And more importantly, how long do you think it will be before JM is back behind the wheel?

-- Dennis, Nashville

This issue is multifaceted and quite convoluted, Dennis. NASCAR isn't kidding around. You use -- or, in some cases, overuse -- you lose. I appreciate the stance. There should be intolerance of drug abuse -- there's no place for that mess anywhere, much less at 190 mph.

Fair or not, Jeremy Mayfield's reputation worsens by the day.

Preferably there would be a definitive list of banned substances. To suspend someone without offering the public even the vaguest explanation as to what was allegedly ingested is ridiculous. Fact is, we don't know if Mayfield took Claritin or cocaine.

Mayfield claims it was a combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications that resulted in the positive test. Dr. David Black of Aegis Labs in Nashville, NASCAR's outsourced drug expert, claims that explanation is impossible. NASCAR does, as well.

Basically, they're calling Mayfield a liar.

NASCAR, at the very least, should develop some type of drug-grading criteria. If they're unwilling to be specific, give us a grade scale. These drugs fall under Grade A, these under Grade B and so on. The public -- and certainly the alleged transgressor -- deserves at least that much.

As it stands, NASCAR could essentially send anyone packing at any time, with zero repercussion. Not saying they would. But under the current policy they could.

When will we see Mayfield back behind the wheel? Impossible question.

He must first convince Dr. Black that he's fit to return.

Hey Marty,

Since the news of Jeremy Mayfield's suspension has been released I have been hearing a lot about the "licensed people in the garage" who get randomly tested under NASCAR's drug policy. Do these licensed people include everyone in the organization, from owner all the way down?

-- Jeff Rhodes, Canton, Ohio

Anyone and everyone with a NASCAR license, Jeff. That means all competitors, including (but not limited to) drivers, owners, crew guys, spotters, some public relations officials and all NASCAR officials.

Marty,

I'm so [dang] tired of Kyle Busch's attitude. He needs to grow up and face setbacks like a man. When it doesn't go his way he stomps off like a [child]. Where I'm from he'd get his [rear end] beat for acting like that.

Do us all a favor and kick his [rear end] for all of us, Marty. I've seen on TV where you've had to run after him. You have to hate it as bad as I do. How come you haven't trashed him in The Six? Do it, man. I'd love to see it.

-- John Martindale, Gatlinburg, Tenn.

I don't care enough about it to waste my breath, John. Busch is a wheelman. But is he so important that his tantrums warrant the attention? Nope. He looks bad. Not me.

Marty,

Jeff Gordon is my man. What's up with his back pain? It worries me. Does it affect him in the car? This year he can finally run for that fifth championship, and I'd hate if the bad back took him off his game. Tell me it's not that bad, Marty! Please!

-- Terri Noonan, hometown unknown

Gordon's back is troublesome, Terri. He can't stand for long. Can't sit very long, either. That's a tough draw for a man who races 500 miles at a time. Inside the car he admits to experiencing discomfort, especially at physically taxing tracks like Martinsville and Bristol. The incessant motion of turning the steering wheel or jamming the brakes tweaks the nerves causing him trouble. He said last weekend that his doctors liken his back issue to arthritis, the result of years of trauma during crashes.

For insight on how debilitating back pain can be to a driver, I sought out Mark Martin at Darlington before practice Friday. The interview was telling on many levels.

In the late 90s, Martin's back was so painful his crew had to literally pick him up and place him inside the No. 6 Ford. After the run, they then had to pull him out of the car, too.

He didn't sugarcoat it one iota.

"As a human being, I can't imagine anything being more brutal than the back thing," Martin said. "I had degenerating discs. Two of them. And they would move, and mash on nerves and it was nerve pain. I haven't ever experienced any other pain like that.

"And, of course, those muscles are tiny, but because they spasm when all that goes on, which is really what [Gordon] is dealing with. It's amazing what little tiny muscles like that can deal you. It's really bad."

Martin said acupuncture was his lone refuge, albeit minimal.

"I tried everything," he said. "I battled it a year and a half before I got my surgery. And I'm telling you, it sounds crazy, but acupuncture helped me. Nothing else did. Acupuncture and being very careful in what I did. I tried everything you can think of, and I seemed to get 30 percent relief from acupuncture."

For Martin, the pain wasn't an issue in the car. The challenge was outside the car.

"First of all, let's get right to defense -- I'm going to tell you right now that this is one of the greatest drivers NASCAR's ever seen. And greatest-motivated," Martin said of Gordon. "So when it comes down to racing -- it never had an impact on my racing, and I certainly don't think that it will have on his.

"It can have, however, a cloud over his life outside of racing. It can affect the way you deal with your team, your family, and the way you deal with the things you have to do, and responsibilities you have. It makes it a much greater challenge.

"So for me, there was very little effect inside the race car. Inside the car was a place I could go and escape, because of the adrenaline and the focus and attention. It was definitely an escape for me. And I was able to do the job that I could have done had I not had [the pain] in the car."

So, then, could a lesser driver tolerate it?

"A lesser-committed person would question whether they would drive through it," Martin said. "I drove through it because I was bound and determined to chase those championships each year. And nothing, nothing would get in the way of that."

He thought back to July 1999, when he broke a wrist, knee and rib in a Busch Series race on a Friday night, then hopped in the 6 one day later.

This is heavy here:

"Nothing would stop me," he said. "And I say that for two reasons -- that is the level of commitment. And No. 2, do you understand a little bit now why I'm not talking about championships [this year]? I'm done with that.

"If I happen to stumble around and score more points than everybody else I'll get the trophy. But I'm not going to let it take. ... I let it take a lot away from my career. Wait, not from my career -- from my life. I let it take a lot away from my life."

Wow. I get it now.

Hey Marty,

Hopefully an easy question for you to knock out of the park. When the flagman displays the various flags, do the drivers actually look up at the stand or are they busy watching the track and instead relying on their spotters to help them out?

We often hear the "green, green, green" radio call telling them when to go, but I wonder when flags like the passing flag or black flag are displayed for a specific driver is he actually paying attention to the stand to see the flag or does he wait for his spotter (possibly by way of a NASCAR official) to tell him the flag is being directed at him?

Thanks for the insight -- I concur on Jason Aldean.

-- Chris, Bondurant, Iowa

Now that's a new one, Chris. It depends on the driver and the particular flag in question. I texted a bunch of drivers about this for you, and, to a man, their minds all went straight to the caution flag. Most said they depend greatly on their spotters when the yellow flies, and on the caution lights positioned on the catch fence around the racetrack to alert them of an accident. They listen for their spotter coming to the green, too.

One of my spotter buddies, Kyle Busch's guy, Jeff Dickerson, explained a typical race for me. He told me he's never once mentioned the passing flag, and doesn't recall any of the other spotters doing so, either. So that's on the driver to see. Dickerson calls the green on the initial race start, because that's the only time the flagman controls the start. Every other time the leader controls the restart.

Dickerson counts down the laps for Busch once the race hits 30 to go. Then 20, 10, five, two, one.

As for black flags, Dickerson will inform Busch of the penalty. But a black flag is only official when the driver takes the black flag and the car number is displayed on the flag stand. A driver can't be black-flagged through his spotter. It has to come from NASCAR.

Hey MartDawg,

Love the column and The Six. This past week I saw all the stories about Bruton Smith talking about Kentucky being on its way to a Cup date in 2010. I was wondering which race is going to get the short straw to make room for the Bluegrass State? And also if you see any other shake-up to the Cup schedule in the future? Second in Vegas? Third road course race?

-- Justin L., Tampa, Fla.

No telling, Justin. Smith won't give that information up. If he wants a date in Kentucky, he'll have to move an existing race from one of his six other tracks. He says he's willing to do that now, which is polar opposite from his nature, and what he's always maintained in the past.

The easy answer is Atlanta -- it struggles badly to sell tickets -- but AMS president Ed Clark tells me no such conversations have been broached from the parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.

But you know SMI won't unload existing dates at Bristol or Texas or Vegas or Lowe's. Infineon does well, too, and serves well the Northern California market. (Plus the wine is awesome. Everyone loves that trip.)

As for Vegas 2.0, I see that happening at some point. Vegas has one advantage no other place can match -- it's an unrivaled destination point. And now that Sin City has the Sprint Cup banquet, that sentiment is only exacerbated.

Marty,

I am a working man and can never stay awake until midnight to see the checkered flag, so please tell me that Mark Martin went old-school and drove straight to Victory Lane without doing a donut, climbing a fence or making a snow angel. God I miss 1 o'clock green flags.

-- Scott , Scotia, N.Y.

No donuts, Scott. Fear not. Mark Martin doesn't do donuts. Or doughnuts.

Marty,

Seems that I saw something new on the cars that I haven't seen before. It looks like a small fin of some type, right behind the camera dome on the roof. Is this something new, or have I missed it in the past? I went through my pictures from shop tours I took last year and I don't see anything like that.

Speaking of the camera domes, what are they made out of when the car doesn't carry a camera? Congrats on the new kiddo -- enjoy 'em while you can, partner.

-- John, Madison, Ala.

Good observation, John. The new piece on the roof is actually a new design of the old antennae that teams were required to run on the COT in 2008. This new design was implemented starting at Daytona this year, and was changed from an aerodynamic standpoint by NASCAR.

It is used as an antennae for the teams that have in-car cameras, but must be in the roof in all cars. The "dummy" camera pods are made out of a composite material similar to a hard nylon with an epoxy coating. They weigh a little more than a pound -- the same amount a real camera would weigh.

That's my time. Gotta love All-Star week. Ass-over-tea kettle for a million bones. One Hot Night, The Winston 1992, is one of the best races in NASCAR history. Davey door-barred in the fence by Kyle for the win. Man, that's what it's about. Now if you'll excuse me ... dirty diaper.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.