Sat, Jul 04, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Mayfield wins legal battle, but not the war


When NASCAR people talked about the need for speed, methamphetamines weren’t part of the conversation.

Suddenly, they’re talking about little else.

What ignited all the talk was driver Jeremy Mayfield’s come-from-behind win earlier this week in what promises to be a long and grueling legal race. Fair or not, the only way Mayfield wins — let alone makes it to the end — is if he turns out to a better plaintiff than driver.

Hauling NASCAR before a judge to contest his suspension for failing a May 1 drug test is like setting fire to the toll booth that sits on the only span leading back to the sport.

If he thinks the guys on the track play hardball, wait until he tries running with NASCAR’s suits in a courtroom. Fair fight or not, they’re in the image business. Instead of just bumping Mayfield, their job is to make him disappear.

“Either Jeremy or NASCAR is wrong, and I don’t know which one, but whichever one is wrong is really hurting the other,” veteran driver Mark Martin said.

What isn’t in doubt is who is more capable of hurting whom.

US District Court Judge Graham Mullen certainly gets that.

NASCAR indefinitely suspended Mayfield for a failed drug test in May — acknowledging on Wednesday that methamphetamines tripped the positive — then turned the matter over to the lawyers and expected it to go away.

However, Mayfield, who has denied ever using methamphetamines, had a lawyer too. On Wednesday, Bill Diehl convinced the judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, that the testing program was flawed enough that barring Mayfield from the racetrack caused him more harm than any damage his presence could cause NASCAR.

Never mind that a few top drivers had filed affidavits in support of the racing circuit, saying they wouldn’t feel safe sharing the racetrack. The judge didn’t buy that argument any more than Mayfield’s lawyer.

“Who does?” Diehl said.

Keep in mind that even though Mayfield won round one, the celebration didn’t last long.

Although the temporary injunction granted him the right to enter this weekend’s race at Daytona, he didn’t turn up by Thursday’s deadline to claim a spot for his own team. Strapped for cash, he seems to make sponsors jittery, or as one small team owner put it, he’s “marked.”

This season, Mayfield owns his own low-budget team. He says he’s had to borrow from relatives, lay off 10 employees and sell personal assets to meet his living expenses. His best chance for a paycheck comes at the Brickyard in Indianapolis at the end of the month. Whether he’ll have enough cash to run a car and still pay a lawyer is anyone’s guess.

NASCAR hasn’t said much about its legal battle plan going forward, but with its deep pockets and non-nonsense attitude, the people in charge will do all they can to make sure he’s nowhere near the racetrack at all.

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