The reason for the indefinite suspension that NASCAR handed him yesterday might be a shocker -- Mayfield is the first Cup driver to be disciplined under the sport's new substance-abuse policies -- but the fact that he's at the center of controversy is hardly surprising.
This incident is nothing more than the latest episode in the inexorable disintegration of what once seemed to be one of the more promising careers in Cup racing. And it might also be the final one.
Since Mayfield, 39, lost his ride at Bill Davis Racing in the fall of '07, he has been a Cup-irregular, making just 13 starts in the last two seasons. This year he's been running his own one-car team, earning money by turning laps at the back of the field. Without finishing better than 32nd in five races this season, his earnings total a not-too-shabby $568,888. Rarely has being bad paid so well.
But running in back isn't what Mayfield burns to do. "I don't want to be the guy just below
Mayfield was 28 when he said that, just four years removed from his Cup debut. But he was already two years older than Gordon, NASCAR's prototypical young gun. Gordon made his first Cup start at the age of 20, laying down a path that has been followed by other driving wunderkind, including
Mayfield never forgot his blue-collar roots. But in addition to driving him to victory on the track, those roots also left him with a huge chip on his shoulder. He won three races for owner
That dispute was nothing compared to the mess Mayfield left behind at Evernham Motorsports, which had signed him after he left Penske. Mayfield won two races for owner
The tragedy of Mayfield's situation is that he's never been young enough -- or good enough (though almost everybody in NASCAR agrees that he is
The long road back, it would seem, is at an end.