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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Judge’s ruling raises question: Did NASCAR get Mayfield’s drug test wrong?

No one thought this was going to happen. Everyone thought this July 1 hearing was just a formality and it was clear that Mayfield’s career was effectively over.
Temporary injunctions are very difficult to get approved, especially if you have been found to have used methamphetamines and are seeking the right to go race a car at 200 mph.

But Jeremy Mayfield and his attorney, Bill Diehl, are on top of the world after U.S. District Court senior Judge Graham Mullen ruled that Mayfield’s suspension for failing NASCAR's substance abuse policy should be lifted, which allowed him the right to return as driver and owner of the #41 team, as early as this weekend if he could get his car there in time.
(Note: As of 1 p.m. Friday, Mayfield had not reported to Daytona, and has two hours to show up. We may not see him until next week at Chicago.)

The reason for Mullen’s granting of the injunction is that he believed the harm to Mayfield's reputation was worse than the harm to the sport. Mullen also believes the evidence showed a strong probability that the test is the result of a mix of medications, as Mayfield claims, and not of illegal drug use.

When I first heard this, my first thought was simply, ‘WOW’. This is a tremendously huge win for Mayfield, as it essentially saves his career and allows him to go racing.

NASCAR officials are no doubt mighty pissed off about this ruling, as it clearly undermines their authority to police their own drivers. But as this is only a temporary injunction, they have to keep those feelings to themselves because the court case will go on.
"We are disappointed, but we respect the judge's ruling," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "This is only a temporary injunction. The legal case continues beyond this point, and we will continue to make our case."

I have to say that at this point, the case is about a whole lot more than just Jeremy Mayfield. I’m rooting for the guy, but I don’t have any personal stake in whether the guy ever races again.

The case has captured national media attention, and now it has turned into something other than a question of whether Mayfield raced on drugs. It has turned into a referendum on NASCAR itself, more specifically its drug testing policy, which they have no plans to change.

It’s not just about Mayfield, who likely won’t do much on the track even if he can come back permanently. It’s about a concept now … can you challenge NASCAR’s authority and win that battle in the modern era.

Also, the fact that this judge believes the drug test may not indicate what NASCAR claims it indicates opens up a whole new can of worms, including the big question: DID NASCAR GET IT WRONG?

If it’s found that they did and Mayfield was wrongly suspended, it will be the biggest stain on NASCAR’s credibility as a sports league in a very long time, and open the door for others to challenge their rulings that historically drivers have not done with any success.

When Curtis Turner tried to organize a drivers’ union decades ago, he was issued a lifetime ban by Big Bill France. The sport’s treatment of Tim Richmond as he attempted to keep racing while suffering from AIDS is undefendable, and they admitted to falsely saying he had failed a drug test.

But Mayfield stood up when he was suspended, claiming he doesn’t use drugs. And with Wednesday’s court win, we are at an unprecedented place in the sport’s history. If Mayfield wins the overall court case, not only will be able to driver again, but he will probably get damages in the millions for lost earnings and damage to his reputation. I can already hear the stream of cuss words emanating from Brian France if he ever has to write that check to Mayfield.

NASCAR is on the front page of sports sections all over the country with this story, and they have to be very angry the court went against them. There’s no word yet if or when they’ll appeal, but the France family and Mike Helton have to be punching walls after this judge’s ruling.
In the past, when a driver challenged NASCAR, always won. This time, they may lose.

Jeremy Mayfield may have only won a few races in his career and be a backmarker when he races lately. But if he can come out victorious in court after failing this drug test and challenging the sport’s once-unbeatable front office, he will be remembered in history for a completely different reason.


Anonymous midasmicah said...

The sad part of this story is even if they're wrong in this case, they will never admit it. It simply doesn't matter if they smear Mayfield's reputation. THEY WILL NOT ADMIT ANY WRONG DOING.

July 2, 2009 at 11:12 AM 

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