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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mayfield's career hangs in balance after failed drug test

When I first read the news, I thought it was a typo.

There’s no way a NASCAR driver, especially one whose small team is struggling to survive, would risk being busted in a drug test.

But it was no joke: Jeremy Mayfield was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Saturday after failing a random drug test at Richmond.

Just a few months ago, the racing world was celebrating Mayfield, who came to Daytona with a team formed just weeks earlier and qualified for the Daytona 500. It was a triumphant story for a guy who had never been able to hang onto a top ride in the Cup series despite being a talented driver. Since Daytona, Mayfield has struggled and failed to qualify for several races, including Darlington this week.

NASCAR has not yet identified the banned substance that was found, but reports indicate it was not alcohol.

Mayfield insists this is a misunderstanding, releasing a statement that: “I believe that the combination of a prescribed medicine and an over the counter medicine reacted together and resulted in a positive drug test. My doctor and I are working with both Dr. Black and NASCAR to resolve this matter. Mayfield Motorsports remains committed to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series … “

I hope he is telling the truth, as it would be a shame for Mayfield’s career to end on this note. He once was an up-and-coming talent, and famously pulled off a bump-and-run pass of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Pocono. But his stints at the Penske and Evernham teams, which they include successes, both ended with public spats and he never settled in anywhere.

He was never going to be the next Jeff Gordon, but he could have been a solid driver who contended for wins if he had found a steady ride.

Now, the results of this investigation will likely determine whether he is done in NASCAR, or will continue on as an owner-driver.

If he is not guilty of using banned substances, I’ll root for his team to achieve success, as it’s important for smaller teams to exist. I don’t automatically believe what NASCAR says about drug tests (see: Tim Richmond).

But if NASCAR does not clear him, you can bet his tiny team will have an impossible time attracting or keeping sponsorship, which will likely mean the end of the line for them.

And if that were to happen, the blame would fall squarely on Mayfield’s shoulders.


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