Right or wrong, Mayfield goes down swinging

Publish date:

Yet whether Mayfield proves guilty in the long run is inconsequential at this point in terms of him getting back on the race track. With two "faulty" drug tests under his belt, it will be nearly impossible to resurrect his team and get the sponsorship needed to compete. That point was driven home in the past 24 hours when the last remaining employee of Mayfield Motorsports, Inc., Bobby Wooten, resigned, saying the team would never make it back to the track.

That leaves Jeremy Mayfield standing alone this morning in his fight to prove not one, but two drug tests were false. To do so, he must face not only damning testimony from a member of his own family, but also a case prepared by one of the best legal teams in the country, put together by the second-biggest sport in America.

It's a daunting mountain to climb, one that would scare the best of men into submission. But know this much: Jeremy Mayfield is not fearful. He's ready to fight.

"It's just like if somebody accuses you," he said Wednesday night on SIRIUS XM Radio in comparing his battle to a criminal act. "They say, 'Hey, man, you're going to jail.' They send you to jail and you've got to explain later how you're going to get out. [But] you're not going to take the fall for somebody else. You're going to stand up, be a man about it, and fight for what's right -- that's what I gotta do."

Taking that stance is nothing new for Mayfield, who has a history of being candid, regardless of the consequences. After four years at powerhouse Penske Racing in 2001, he openly criticized management, which he claimed seemed to favor teammate Rusty Wallace and up-and-coming rookie Ryan Newman. When those concerns weren't addressed, Mayfield publicly criticized the car Penske brought to the track for his team at Kansas, claiming it wasn't up to par compared to Newman's or Wallace's machines.

One week later, he was fired for those comments, but his conscience was clear, his point was made. The rookie Newman finished second at Kansas, and the next year his part-time team was dissolved so he could slip into Mayfield's former ride in the No. 12 full-time -- which was just what Mayfield thought was being set up.

Fast forward to 2006. After two straight Chase for the Championship (think playoff) appearances with his new team at Evernham Motorsports, Mayfield saw his crew gutted in favor of his teammate, the more marketable, 20-something superstar Kasey Kahne. In particular, hotshot crew chief Kenny Francis was lost, leaving Mayfield struggling on the track with a hodgepodge of head wrenches -- none of whom worked out. Yet when Mayfield's release from the team appeared imminent, he had no problem vocalizing those concerns, claiming his own car owner had sabotaged his team in favor of another. And when Evernham fought back, releasing his driver for those comments ... Mayfield came out swinging.

Filing a lawsuit in court that August, the driver let the cat out of the bag. He said what everyone in the garage had known for months but was too afraid to admit in public: the car owner was having an affair with his own driver, Erin Crocker, a woman half his age whom Mayfield claimed was "a distraction" both inside and outside the race team. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and Mayfield lost his job ... but again, his conscience was clear, his words truthful. When hundreds of the sport's media had seemingly taken a vow of silence, the man treaded water where no one else dared go.

That brings us to 2009. Mayfield was supposed to be a shining light this summer, after starting a self-owned team. In February, NASCAR CEO Brian France saidhe expected such teams to rise up in the face of challenging economic times.

"Someone who says, 'I didn't have the biggest budget but was still competitive,'" France said back then, "that would be a wonderful story to see unfold in 2009."

Mayfield was attempting to fit those criteria, making the Daytona 500 and qualifying for five of the first 11 races with his small-but-growing program before a drug test ended his season. Now, in the midst of the latest accusations, no man, no organization -- not even NASCAR -- will stop him from standing up for what he believes in.

"You know, Brian France out there talking about effective drug policy, it's kind of like Al Capone talking about effective law enforcement," he said, calling NASCAR out on a litany of inconsistent on-and-off track rulings that have dogged it in recent years. "And that's the way I feel about it. The pot shouldn't be calling the kettle black, you know what I'm saying? I think the world needs to hear that, too."

A few weeks ago, I said after the temporary injunction was lifted that there are no winners here. There still aren't. NASCAR still steadfastly refuses to close the loopholes in its drug policy that federal judge Graham Mullen pointed out a few weeks ago, the most important of which is the absence of an official list of banned substances that can be seen by everyone. Since the ruling, instead NASCAR has continued to tout its drug policy, test Mayfield a second time, and watch the result come back positive. The sport's ruling body is raring and ready to go another round, fighting a man whose career is over, regardless of the outcome.

Kudos to NASCAR if it's right, and shame on Mayfield for jumping through this many hoops to hide a serious problem. But if the opposite proves to be true ... I hope the sport understands just how far this man will go to prove a point.