Commentary

Fans react to Mayfield vs. NASCAR

Updated: July 10, 2009, 4:40 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Billy Currington is right: God is great. Beer is good. People are crazy.

So shocked was the NASCAR industry -- and I mean almost everybody: drivers, owners, crews, media, Daytona brass, administrative assistants, janitors and security guards alike -- that Jeremy Mayfield beat NASCAR in court to earn the right to race while accused of abusing methamphetamine, that I chose to write a blog Thursday about the decision, namely that the sanctioning body's notorious heavy hand may be forced to lighten up as a result.

I was called a homer. Among other things.

That intrigued me. Confused me like the Pythagorean Theorem, too. If you're not crusading for Mayfield here, then you are by default a NASCAR backer. It's like most things, I reckon. If you're not here, you're there. Ain't much middle.

So I solicited more feedback from readers -- not necessarily fans -- regarding their thoughts on the Mayfield ruling and how it may affect the sport moving forward.

I believe it to be a landmark decision. Some don't.

NASCAR said May 9 that Mayfield failed a drug test, and on Wednesday it confirmed an earlier ESPN The Magazine report that the drug in question was methamphetamine.

Yet Judge Graham Mullen determined that the damage to Mayfield's reputation was worse than any harm NASCAR may have suffered. He also said it's possible Mayfield's test produced a false positive.

That's huge. It means Mullen considers NASCAR's procedural approach to be broken and in need of a tuneup.

NASCAR feels like this decision, if it holds up, could have wide-ranging implications throughout sports.

Few, save maybe Mayfield and his representation, saw this coming. The injunction hearing was widely considered a formality, a speed-bump run through the legal motions before heading to the beach for the Firecracker 400.

No more. This decision is now a precedent.

Just what type of precedent, and how dramatic, won't be known for quite some time.

Marty,

I feel like NASCAR has too many gray areas, in not only their drug policies, but every aspect of their rulebook. From the obvious drug violations to mechanical penalties, NASCAR does not have enough consistency to provide the fans (probably drivers, too) with answers.

I understand these gray areas are necessary for the governing body to get the outcome they want, but I feel that a concrete list of right and wrong would help everyone understand NASCAR's reasoning.

How do you think a list of banned substances (with an "and other substances" included at the end, of course) would affect the sport? After modeling the Chase after playoffs in other series with success, I think that a list similar to those in other sports would bring nothing but positive results as well.

As far as Mayfield goes, I am nothing but happy for him with the way his court ruling turned out yesterday. NASCAR made Mayfield their guinea pig, and I could never believe that if this was some high profile driver such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, or God forbid: Junior, these measures would never have been taken.

The sport would be hit too hard with those drivers losing their sponsors, fan's dollars, and valuable fan support. I felt Mayfield's lawyer presented an argument most of the fans agreed with, and hopefully this will get NASCAR to re-evaluate their drug policy.

-- Hannah Anderson, Fort Gaines, Ga.

Many folks would agree with you regarding the ambiguity of NASCAR's drug policy, and its rules-enforcement practice, in general, Hannah. I hear it every day, at the grocery store and the gym and damn sure in the inbox. I had a discussion with a new neighbor at the pool Thursday about it. Folks want clarity, no matter the subject.

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Odd thing is, when I see fans at the track, they're happy as a pig in slop. The product is still awesome. TV numbers are down and attendance is down and everybody from Charlotte to Cheyenne finds something to complain about. But when those drivers fire it up on Sundays, all that crap seems to be muted for a few hours.

NASCAR has had a dictatorial reign from its inception. Quite frankly, it was that approach by Bill France and Bill France Jr. that catapulted the sport to the big time. That philosophy won't change completely because of this, and the Daytona brass must become even more pliable. They must listen closely to competitors and fans.

NASCAR doesn't know everything. NASCAR does have a good thing going. To preserve it, it must use the intelligence and foresight of its No. 1 product, the drivers and teams.

The Mayfield decision emasculates NASCAR like never before. From the outset of the Mayfield announcement, folks called for transparency, for the drug in question to be named. I asked what the drug was the minute Jim Hunter opened the news conference for questions at Darlington.

A list of banned substances almost surely must come from this decision. A few friends of mine play (or played) other sports professionally. All claim there's no way this could happen in other sports because the lists of banned substances are very specific.

NASCAR contends it could. Spokesman Ramsey Poston said Thursday on Sirius Radio that if the decision stands, it sets a precedent empowering any athlete in any sport to seek legal means for reinstatement.

The craziest thing about Wednesday's decision is that Mayfield never had to prove he didn't use drugs. The judge based his decision on NASCAR's procedural approach.

This isn't an oil cooler lid or an engine part. This is suspected illegal drug use.

That's not homer. That's the truth.

Marty,

What about Jeremy in all of this? Nobody's thinking about his reputation. Everyone thinks he's guilty just because NASCAR said he is. And even if he isn't, he's labeled for life. NASCAR better hope he's not innocent. If he is, they should be sued for everything they have.

-- Mark Collins, Halifax, Va.

Well, certainly, Mark. To quote Mayfield's attorney, Bill Diehl, that's a "duh" statement.

If Mayfield is innocent, then NASCAR ruined him and should be duly smacked down. If Mayfield is innocent, Diehl will duly smack them down. He isn't playing tiddlywinks. This is a man's livelihood and reputation and legacy at stake.

This is a very, very serious allegation. And even if he's innocent and ultimately proved so, he's labeled.

Team owner Tommy Baldwin said it well to reporters at Daytona on Thursday: Mayfield is a marked man for the rest of his life. That doesn't bode well for his future in the racing business, regardless of the outcome of this case.

Marty,

I was completely STUNNED by the results of the Mayfield case. I know the law says "innocent until proven guilty" but I think in this case we need to err on the side of caution. Caution for the crewmembers, fellow drivers, officials, reporters and fans.

The one thing this leaves me asking is why don't they use hair samples? You can't just say, well not everyone has hair, they may not have it on their head but everyone has hair somewhere. Hair samples are more accurate and show the history of use.

As an HR professional I have seen many people fail hair drug tests that would have passed [a] urine test. For everyone involved I truly hope that Jeremy is clean, but what happens if he isn't and God forbid he hurts someone?

-- Kathryn Doyle, Richmond, Ind.

NASCAR has the right to take hair samples from Mayfield. Judge Mullen stressed that in court Wednesday. Mayfield has said since his impromptu appearance at Charlotte in May that he'd hand hair over.

Jeff Burton addressed the ruling Thursday at Daytona -- with concern for context.

"I think once the ruling was made, there's been a lot of jumping to conclusions that what the judge said was that NASCAR's wrong, end of story -- that's not the case at all," Burton said. "What the judge said was, or the way I viewed it, was that it is in question, the result can be questioned. But the judge did not say the result was wrong.

"The judge said it could be questioned, and while it's being questioned, what do we do about it? The way I view it is, if and when [Mayfield] comes back, NASCAR has every right to test him as many times as they would like to make sure that things are being done correctly, and there's no drug problem on the racetrack. The only problem with that is that it's not an instant test."

One key point: The Mayfield injunction is temporary. It might be a year before all of this is finalized. And NASCAR still may appeal the decision.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Mayfield
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJeremy Mayfield was granted a temporary injunction, but what about his reputation and livelihood?

"The next step is going to be a really big step when the case continues," Burton said. "I am obviously not an attorney, but I don't know if there's going to be appeals. But ultimately, unless there is some agreement prior to that, it will eventually go to trial and that decision of that trial will be huge."

Marty,

The drivers have to be [upset] about Jeremy Mayfield driving. I know I would be. What are they all saying about this court ruling?

-- Jeremy Cocolai, Venice Beach

Ryan Newman: "I will say that some people that don't understand motorsports, some people that don't understand sports in general, and the situation that we had when somebody tests positive is something to be seriously considered. And there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with that. As a federal judge, when you release somebody to go back and [compete] without necessarily, in my eyes, clarifying everything -- that's not cool. People make mistakes. I just hope the judge didn't make one."

Jeff Burton: "One thing that I disagree with the judge on is that my safety is important to me, and if there's an instant test available, then I think the judge's opinion is 100 percent right. There is no instant test available. At the same time, from Jeremy's perspective, if the judge ruled that it can be questioned, then it should be questioned. And he should have the ability to look into it, if that's what the court's ruled. It's a tough situation for anybody to make that decision because he potentially puts my safety in jeopardy with that decision. The other decision potentially puts Jeremy's career in jeopardy, so what do you do?"

Jimmie Johnson: "It is very confusing to understand what or if took place or any of this. It's been hard to really follow, and the rumors have been wild. But at the end of the day we just want 43 sober drivers on that racetrack. And I know when he comes back he will have to go through a testing policy then, and a procedure then, and if he is clean then he will be on the racetrack and there is no issues."

Kyle Busch: He's free to race, which is fine. If he's out there on the racetrack with me, then it doesn't bother me. Normally we're ahead of him anyway."

Kasey Kahne: "I like NASCAR's drug policy. I like what they've done there. I've been tested a few times this year and early in the year, I would go and get tested and it was kind of in and out. I got tested at Sonoma and it's a process now. Every little step you have to sign your name or initial … work with the person that is taking the sample. To me, that's because of the whole Mayfield incident, and just clarifying everything and making sure that everything is, the driver and the person taking the sample are on the same page. I'm totally behind NASCAR. So if he's on the track, you have to race with him."

The funniest comment came from Denny Hamlin: "They do everything but stand there and hold it for you."

Marty,

OK, so Judge Mullen ruled the "harm to Mr. Mayfield significantly outweighs the harm to NASCAR," granting a temporary injunction for Mayfield. But what does this really mean? Since NASCAR is private, will they allow him to qualify? Will NASCAR pull a Japanese inspection on his car in tech? (Days of Thunder reference).

Will he receive fair treatment from NASCAR, teams, drivers etc.? Personally, I think Jeremy got railroaded in this whole thing. Something has smelled fishy from the get-go. But my worry for him is the damage that has been done. Is it time for a drivers union?

-- Robert Butterfield, over in the big sandbox

It'd be awfully tough to convince some of the more popular drivers to agree to a union, Robert. Many drivers -- and they'd never tell you this outwardly -- are completely against the union structures in, say, baseball or basketball.

But it would behoove NASCAR to develop a drivers committee with which to debate key issues, one led by an attorney that would offer NASCAR potential issues from the other side. That may prevent situations like the Mayfield debacle from occurring.

To be clear, though, NASCAR already does a lot of driver polling that no one knows or hears about.

Marty,

I doubt Mayfield will ever get a ride in anybody else's car again -- NASCAR, I'm sure, has scared the bejeezus out of all the independent car owners with threats of what will happen if they do. (Remember Carl Long?)

But Mayfield has the right to due process, to show that the tests were flawed, that it is chemically possible for a compound formed from Adderall and pseudoephedrine to create a meth-like derivative, and to determine whether Aegis performed the right chemical test to distinguish between "meth-like" and "meth" before accusing and judging him.

Since NASCAR has ignored all the WADA recommended drug testing guidelines, it has to live with the consequences of an ill-considered policy.

And for all the people out there screaming about the dangers of a "meth-head" driving a racecar at 180 mph, look up methamphetamine in any prescription drug database and you'll see that it is prescribed to people with ADD and ADHD to calm and focus them.

If Mayfield really does suffer from this disorder, meth might actually make him a safer driver. Hmm. I wonder if we could get prescriptions for certain other frenetic "wreckers or checkers" drivers out there … just thinking.

-- Jo Koster, Rock Hill, S.C.

NASCAR's drug policy administrator, Dr. David Black from Aegis Labs in Tennessee, has stated on multiple occasions that it is impossible to get Mayfield's test reading with an Adderall/Claritin-D cocktail.

However, judging by fan feedback Thursday, it seems Sirius radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge ingested Adderall and Claritin-D on two separate occasions and conducted his own drug testing. The fans say he tested positive for meth both times. (I tried to call the studio line a few times and got no answer.)

Well, that's great. And the fact that that information wasn't included in my previous analysis is appalling to some folks. I shake my head …

Marty,

Be careful, that goo in your hair could produce a false-positive.

-- Jimmy in Chicago

Hilarious.

Marty,

My view is that Mayfield should not be allowed to race. Meth is meth regardless of the amount found in the specimen. And last time I checked, Meth was an illegal drug.

I work for a lab and we do drug screens. Adderall and Claritin-D would not produce a positive result of Meth as high as what they say was in the urine sample. There is a very slim chance it could produce a positive, but it runs along the lines of eating poppy seeds to cause a positive result for a narcotic.

And when his lawyer said he didn't look like a normal meth user because his eyes weren't sunken in and his teeth weren't rotted out, I was appalled. I see people everyday that look fine and their results come back off the charts. So much that we don't even know how they were even able to walk into the building.

Yesterday's ruling is just one more reason that I have very little faith in our legal system. The judge just allowed Mayfield to be able to put 42 other drivers and many crew workers' lives in danger more than they already are.

As for NASCAR, why was there not a list of banned substances? That right there shot them in the foot. My question is, since Mayfield is allowed back, does that mean Shane Hmiel can come back as well?

-- Shelly, Toledo, Ohio

It means Shane Hmiel has a lot more leverage than he had before, Shelly. It means there is a legal precedent that could overrule NASCAR's discretion. It means what NASCAR says isn't the end-all, be-all.

Marty,

I am absolutely outraged about the Mayfield ruling. While I understand that there are federal guidelines for handling the samples, as there should be, I can't believe that such a loophole can actually jeopardize the safety of our great sport.

Last season everyone yelled and screamed for NASCAR to adopt a strict drug-testing policy, and they did. The first time a Cup driver fails a drug test, it is big news, and the new policy is put to the test.

I feel that NASCAR did everything they should have done, including sending the A and B samples to separate independent labs. This ruling seriously undermines NASCAR's authority and future drug testing.

As for Jeremy Mayfield, while I have never disliked a single driver in NASCAR, it always irked me that Jeremy seemed to have trouble wherever he goes, with a track record of not taking responsibility for the outcome. Case in point is the situation with Ray Evernham: while there was a great deal of "personal" issues that certainly could have caused some distraction at that time, Jeremy blamed his loss of a ride entirely on Evernham and even took him to court as well.

If he tested positive for methamphetamines, to me that is the end of the story. I am NOT comfortable with Jeremy being on the track until THAT issue is settled. The court could have made some kind of other ruling to address the mishandling of the samples without jeopardizing the safety of all the other drivers.

-- Georgia Detrick, Round Rock, Texas

There's no question Mayfield has had his share of run-ins, Georgia, from Penske to Evernham to the current predicament. You're right, too, that this undermines NASCAR's authority. It's the latest in a string of black marks on the industry. How it plays out in court will shape the future of the sport.

That's my time. Enjoy your Independence Day, folks. Remember why you have it.

I'll leave you with this: One driver, who wished not to be named, told me Friday morning that he has no problem with the ruling and doesn't consider it a safety risk, so long as NASCAR has the right to test Mayfield at-will. They do.

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

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