The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Drug Mistake? (Not Mayfield's), Keselowski's Should Be Cup's Top Rookie, And Johnson Plays Dead by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday May 13, 2009

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Did You Notice? … How secretive NASCAR is trying to be with this whole drug thing? There’s two main questions that came up in my head since the positive test, ones I couldn’t answer immediately as a reporter as Darlington was a weekend I’d taken off:

1) Why was Mayfield allowed to practice and qualify if NASCAR knew there was a positive sample?
2) Why will NASCAR not publicize its list of banned substances for drivers – especially when they have a history of shadiness with drug suspensions (See: Tim Richmond, 1980s)?

I thought I was going to have to wait until this weekend to get answers, but it turns out Jenna Fryer had a fantastic piece she put out over on Yahoo! with some great info (for those looking for a good read post-David Poole, let me tell you, her stuff is always top notch). According to Fryer, NASCAR actually did find out Mayfield’s positive test result on Thursday, but did allow him to practice and qualify while seeking out a second opinion to determine its validity. She also goes on to tell us that while a banned substance list isn’t released for drivers, there’s a public one for crews that includes ephedrine, slightly over a dozen “narcotics,” and about 10 different benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

OK … thanks to Fryer, we have at least a little information to go on. But my problem is – and this is where NASCAR drives me crazy – I had to find this information hidden in a little article on Yahoo! Sports, while about 50 other reporters and articles spew out loads of misinformation that leave us running around in circles confused. As someone who covers the sport on a full-time basis, I can’t tell you how much that bugs the hell out of me – because it doesn’t have to be this way. For all the press releases about gobbletygook NASCAR sends our way, why can’t they have a little page put up where they list all the substances they test for on or something? Would it really be that hard?

Instead, we have to hunt and peck like a group of wild roosters to find information that should be readily accessible. That results in a ton of articles with misinformation, false statements, and speculation no one would even need if all the facts were simply put in front of us in the first place.

Warning: This man is a drug user. OK, that’s not true. But if you read some of the NASCAR publications out there last week, you’d think this guy was the one who failed a drug test.

Speaking of speculation, while I’m on this high horse it really bothers me that Reed Sorenson’s name was linked to the suspension on the internet by reputable media outlets before it actually happened. I won’t name the offending media in question, but from my perch away from it all in Pennsylvania I just thought that was wrong and deserving of an apology. It’s not like a Silly Season story where your source told you the wrong ride: You can’t just throw someone’s name out there like that when it comes to drug-related suspensions of this magnitude. And if I were Reed, I wouldn’t talk to anyone who printed my name in association with that story for the rest of the year. What a freakin’ mess…

But when push comes to shove, NASCAR could prevent all this misinformation and speculation spiraling out of control if they would just come clean with us. Tell us the substance Mayfield tested positive for. Tell us the substances you’re testing for. And explain why you felt it was a good idea to let Mayfield still go out and practice/qualify when you knew you had a possible positive test on your hands. Those aren’t difficult questions to answer; and over in Major League Baseball, we had them for Manny Ramirez in the matter of 30 seconds.

Without that transparency, life as a NASCAR reporter is an exciting challenge to uncover the truth – but also is surrounded by a cloud of secrecy that’s totally unnecessary under this scenario. I just don’t understand the way they do things … and I’m not sure I ever will.

Did You Notice?… If Brad Keselowski simply declared for Rookie of the Year, he’d be having a heck of a battle right now with Joey Logano? I’ve talked about this possibility a lot so far this season … so the stat geek in me went ahead and worked out the numbers. Here’s what the rookie race would look like right now with Keselowski in the picture according to the Raybestos Rookie of the Year rules:

Joey Logano 119
Scott Speed 108
Brad Keselowski 56
Max Papis 34

Now, at first glance it looks like Keselowski would still wind up getting his butt kicked. But you have to understand how the Raybestos Rookie contest works: when the season is over, they take the best 17 races from each driver to construct their final point total. So if Keselowski starts about 17 events this season (which he’s in line to do, combining a schedule in the No. 09 car with a part-time ride in the No. 25 of Hendrick Motorsports) he’ll have just as many races that count as the rest of his competitors. Sure, the opportunity for a mulligan won’t exactly be there … but with a win already under his belt, it’s possible Keselowski could build up enough of a cushion to hold off the rest of the competition.

Since Keselowski has earned points for just five races so far this season (he DNQ’d at the Daytona 500), let’s take a look at the best five performances for each rookie driver with him in the mix:

Brad Keselowski 56
Scott Speed 53
Joey Logano 51
Max Papis 34

As you can see, the win leaves Keselowski in front by five over Logano and three over Scott Speed (who got bonus points for his fifth place finish at Talladega). It’s not a big lead … but big enough to make this one heck of a battle once more finishes are collected in the second half of the season. The only question is, if Keselowski came out and declared right now, would Raybestos redo the points to include his finishes from the first few races this season? (I reached out to Jimmy White, who runs the rookie program, but I couldn’t get an answer by press time).

Assuming Raybestos would honor that request, the question remains valid … why did Keselowski never declare? “I didn’t file for rookie of the year because the last thing I wanted to see was my name at the bottom of that list,” he said back at Richmond. “[I’d struggle with] knowing that you probably couldn’t win it unless you ran the whole deal.”

But now that we’ve proven he can do it on a partial schedule … will knowing he actually does have a chance be enough for the young driver to change his mind?

Not even the worst recession in recent memory could keep race fans from returning to the Lady in Black.

Did You Notice? … That despite the rough economy, Darlington was closer than any track not named Daytona or Bristol to a sellout this season? I had a quick conversation with Track President Chris Browning yesterday, and he told me they came within 2,000 seats of that magic number – with daily ticket sales for the last three weeks far outpacing the numbers they had back in 2008. When you add in the large number of fans buying infield admission, the overall attendance for Darlington was about 63,000 in the stands and 9,000 in the infield for a total of 72,000. What an impressive turnout, especially considering the unemployment rate for South Carolina is up to a scary 11.2%.

I think the strong support for Darlington tells us a couple of things in this era of declining attendance. Number one, it’s that fans still respond to tradition and a guarantee of good racing without all the bells and whistles of concerts, clown shows, and all this other nonsense promoters are using nowadays to try and get butts in the seats. People don’t come to the track to see Foreigner in concert (although it’s a nice bonus); they come to see cars go ‘round in circles in a way that leaves us wanting more. When that doesn’t happen at one of these cookie cutter tracks like Chicagoland … well, no wonder they have problems selling seats! It’s the product, dummy…

Number two, it shows us that NASCAR’s roots, no matter how much we try and twist them, still reside in the Southeast. There’s no new track being built in New York City or Washington State during this recession … but fans are busting at the seams to get a Cup date for Kentucky Speedway in the Southeast. Need I say more? And last but not least, strong support means a track that was once ready to be crossed off NASCAR’s list is secure for years to come — there’s more of a chance they’ll get a second date now then be reduced to none. Getting the extra racing would be a stretch at best, considering Darlington’s smaller capacity compared to other tracks … but with attendance shooting downhill at a rapid pace elsewhere, you just never know.

Did You Notice? … Justice served for a team that could have broken a record under questionable circumstances? Clint Bowyer’s streak of consecutive races running at the finish came to an end at 83 Saturday night, his RCR Chevy the innocent victim of contact with A.J. Allmendinger’s Dodge. That left him one short of the all-time mark of 84, set by Herman “The Turtle” Beam from 1961-63.

With the longest active streak now passed to Regan Smith at 47, it looks like Beam’s record is set to stand for a long time to come. But the funny thing is, Bowyer should have never come this close in the first place. After crashing hard in the “Big One” at Talladega on Lap 7, the team knew they couldn’t rebuild the car to make minimum speed. So, using the rules to their advantage, they chose to roll out the No. 33 car to make one, slow lap during the race’s frantic finish so “technically” Bowyer’s car would be running when the checkered flag flew.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a pretty “B” league way to try and break a record. For all the jokes made about Beam’s performance on the race track (he never finished higher than fourth in 194 career starts), he never took his car out on the track for one final lap just to finish like that. It was bad luck, I know, for Bowyer to be involved in the “Big One;” but sometimes, that’s the way the racing ball bounces – and why records like Beam’s are nearly impossible to break.

Did You Notice?… Jimmie Johnson publicly backing off at the end of the race when he figured out he couldn’t catch Mark Martin? I went off about this point in our expert roundtable, Mirror Driving, and I’m still so mad I just had to mention it in my column. Call me crazy, but I was brought up to believe that in racing, second place is the first loser. No one comes to the track to watch drivers settle for second …and you can’t convince me otherwise. Since when do you ever hear about the fantastic side-by-side battle to the line for second place? You don’t … because everyone cares about who wins.

So yes, I know Johnson had a hellish day, one filled with so much drama I’m surprised Susan Lucci from All My Children didn’t show up in the passenger seat. Yeah, I understand that Johnson needs to bring his car home in one piece because points racing is supposedly the name of the game these days (never mind the fact he’s all but locked into the top 12 with the way that team performs). But if that’s what you’re going to do in your head – settle for second place – why in the hell would you tell your team that on the radio? In a transmission that gets played over public TV so a million fans can go and click over to something else? Somewhere when that message was played, I know Humpy Wheeler’s heart skipped a beat. Talk about trying to promote that one … “Come back to Darlington next year, where you’ll get to see Johnson graciously step out of the way and let another teammate take the checkered flag?”

It’s just driving me up the wall that happened. Heck, it’s Wednesday and I’m still going to lose sleep over it …

Did You Notice?… What goes around comes around in this sport? Back in 1997, Joe Nemechek missed out on the Daytona 500 while driving for well-funded Felix Sabates. Meanwhile, a little owner/driver underdog named Phil Barkdoll was able to fall back on his qualifying speed to make the race on a shoestring budget. Realizing the magnitude of missing the 500, Sabates paid Barkdoll a tidy sum of money to step out of his seat and let Nemechek drive for him instead. It was the rich helping the poor, keeping their marquee driver on the map while helping the little guy stay in business.

Let’s fast forward to 12 years later. Scott Speed missed his second race of the season, and his Team Red Bull organization (with millions in cash backing them up) was desperate to get their marquee driver seat time. They find a small, underdog driver who’s got no sponsorship but somehow scraped up his last, best effort to get his Toyota in the starting lineup.

Who’s the veteran Speed replaces?

Joe Nemechek.

Sometimes, the circle of life amazes me.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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M.B. Voelker
05/13/2009 08:16 AM

Its forgivable when mere fans don’t make the connection between the pile of forms they have to fill out at the doctor’s office and Nascar’s inability to name the drug Mayfield was positive for. But, as I said in response to Fryer’s article, for a reporter — whose job is to seek out facts — to miss it is unforgivable.

Federal medical privacy lay PROHIBITS anyone except Mayfield from revealing such medical details.

As for the delay, what on earth do you think the B sample is for?

False positives are why they take 2 samples. If the first sample comes up positive they re-test to make sure.

Obviously, had they refused to permit Jeremy on track while the B sample was being tested and it had come up clean there would be a great deal of well-deserved outrage at how he’d been prevented from attempting to qualify.

Honestly Bowles, I frequently disagree with your opinions but I thought better of your brain. You’ve let your rabid anti-Nascar negativity completely erode your ability to think rationally about this sort of serious issue.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
05/13/2009 10:37 AM

One thing I would add to the Johnson backing off discussion, was that his crew cheif also told him over the radio, “Just back it down and save some fuel….”

These guys have won three consecutive championships for a reason – just as Kyle Busch typicaly tanks in the Chase from driving over his head, or his team making miscues.

It might not be the most harrowing thing heard over a teams radio, but but it was enlightening. There’s quitting and then there’s using discreation and saving your plane to fight another day. I’m sure there’s more than a few drivers who have thrown in the towel as they saw the No. 48 fade into the sunset…..I think it was a good piece of material myself.

Don Bishop
05/13/2009 11:47 AM

I think
David Pearsons comment was right on when he said he didn’t concure with nascar rules! Get back to real stock car racing, using REAL CARS

Kevin in SoCal
05/13/2009 12:43 PM

I agree with Vito. Chad said on TWIN Monday that they had enough fuel to make it to the finish but not enough for a GWC finish. Johnson tried to pass Martin a few times on the restart but was unable to do so. So he backed off, saved his tires and fuel, and kept himself in second place. I dont see anything wrong with that. Would you rather he dove under Mark Martin, got loose, and took both of them out in a crash?

Managing Editor
05/13/2009 01:01 PM


While you and I disagree on many things, I honestly consider you perhaps the most knowledgable NASCAR fan I’ve ever seen on message boards, blogs, etc. and am always humbled by your thoughts. Your input is always appreciated, and your thoughts on privacy are valid.

However, in this case I stand by what I wrote in that NASCAR doesn’t have a banned substance list. In Manny Ramirez’s case, it’s pretty easy to figure out — even if the specific type of steroid was not released — what he tested positive for because we KNOW what baseball is looking to uncover to the point they can say in their official statements “performance-enhancing drug.” In NASCAR, we have no sense of direction as to what exactly what drugs they’re testing for. Is it performance-enhancing? Is it recreational? Yes, there becomes a certain point where the specifics of their statement becomes illegal … but they can certainly go a heck of a lot further than the words “failed a drug test.”

I look at it like this: you and I are talking and I mention I met a nice girl the other day in the mall. Now, there’s a couple hundred million women living in the U.S., right? So what are the chances — if that’s the only information I give you — that you can correctly guess the exact full name (first and last) of the girl I met?

But if I gave you some more information … say the girl had red hair, she’s a 2003 graduate of N.C. State, etc. … you’d have more clues at your disposal as you attempt to figure it out. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it right with a first guess — you’re going to need to take these clues, run with them, and find out information — but at least you’d have SOMETHING to go on. You’d have an idea of who to rule out.

But we, as reporters, have been given nothing. And what’s worse, drivers themselves have been given no defined list of what medications to stay away from. So, how in the world do they know whether an allergy mediation will trigger a positive test if they don’t even know what they’re being tested for? That’s factual information … listen to Mark Martin’s comments from the Dan Patrick Show. And that, Mary Beth, is what’s so frustrating.

Thanks as always for your contributions to the site. I do think I made an important oversight based on what you stated, and I hope you do believe in forgiveness. Sadly, no one in life is ever perfect, no matter how much we strive for perfection. But thanks for setting that record straight to a certain degree.

Carl in PA
05/13/2009 01:55 PM

OK … thanks to Fryer, we have at least a little information to go on. But my problem is – and this is where NASCAR drives me crazy – I had to find this information hidden in a little article on Yahoo! Sports, while about 50 other reporters and articles spew out loads of misinformation that leave us running around in circles confused.

This says a whole lot more about 50 “reporters” than it does about NASCAR. Perhaps Ms. Fryer dug deep in her AP investigative reporterette tool kit and pulled out a cell phone? Then maybe she called someone and asked? Maybe that’s it?

Why should I bother reading your site? I’ll just get the AP feed since it appears that only Ms Fryer seems to know how to do her job.

Carl D.
05/13/2009 01:57 PM


I’m with M.B. on this one. While it may be in everyone’s best interest to know what substances are banned by Nascar, it is certainly NOT the media’s business to know what specific substance Mayfield tested positive for. I think that was M.B.‘s point.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
05/13/2009 02:18 PM

I think it is in everyone’s interest to know what he tested positive for – though that is not nessecarily in the driver’s best interests.

NASCAR has always treated these things in a very parental manner. They do not want to destroy someone by outting them for using an illicit substance – they do however want them disciplined and to suspend any use of that substance. This isn’t like baseball or football where a guy is pretty much expected to use something so he can compete at a heightened level. Their careers depend on sponsorship, plain and simple. If a driver is outed for using something such as, cocaine…his career would be effectively over. No sponsor would sign onto that baggage.

Please, save your Coke family of driver suggestions….

M.B. Voelker
05/13/2009 02:30 PM

Thanks for the response.

However, giving those details you’re asking for would be the same as releasing the name of the drug — it would violate Mayfield’s legally protected right to medical confidentiality by giving you those clues.

My husband was an EMT and Ambulance Captain for a volunteer fire department. If I asked him how his shift had gone it was illegal for him to tell me — his own wife — any details that could lead to my identifying any patient he’d cared for.

Furthermore, if he, out of professional concern, asked the ER staff how a patient from a previous shift was doing it was illegal for the staff to tell him — even though it could have had a positive effect on his care of patients in similar circumstances.

Doing a little digging into the Byzantine intricacies of medical privacy law would leave you better equipped to analyze these policies in the future.

As for not giving the drivers a defined list, …

Kenny Wallace put it well on Race Day — he doesn’t take anything whatsoever that he doesn’t get cleared and tells Nascar about every medicine and supplement he takes.

If Nascar had a defined list of substances and someone showed positive for a new “designer drug” that wasn’t on the list they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

I don’t know if you’re a parent or not, but if you are, imagine if you had to give your kids an exact list of all the things they were specifically forbidden to do. What if you couldn’t punish them for putting a bunch of holes in the drywall because you had never specifically forbidden them from shooting arrows indoors?

My friend with the energetic, intelligent, ADHD sons was able to fine them the cost of the patching compound and paint then ground them for a month because “Behave!” covered indoor archery even though it wasn’t specified.

Nascar drivers and crewmen are adults. “Take nothing that will impair you and clear your meds with us,” adequately covers the territory.

05/13/2009 07:22 PM

Geez M.B. Cut the guy a little slack. You don’t need to the junior high vice principal all the time.

See, all these cheap shots don’t feel good. And we are all just race fans trying to enjoy the beating and banging. It’s not always easy expressing our opinions without slighting someone else.

I understand NASCAR not revealing the results of the drug test. But the secrecy is INEXCUSABLE. A list of banned substances is easy to disseminate to the drivers, including an opening for any “designer drugs” that might appear in the future. This secrecy, could do a terrible, and even lasting, damaged image to Sorensons career. All because they want to have this “Japanese Produce Check” power over the drivers.

The chances of damage being done to the NASCAR “image” due to one driver going astray due to drugs is a million times less than when one more car at Talladega or Daytona goes into the stands. History has shown that some drivers/owners do come along and participate in illegal activity (Skinners son, Haas, IRL’s Panther racing crew chief) and it is an individual indictment. When that Mercedes cartwheeled into the stands at Germany in the 50’s that sent reverberations into the whole auto racing society that set it back a decade.

NASCAR’s maniacal need to control everything that goes into their racing, rather than, putting that energy into worrying about the actual “racing” is what has most longtime fans upset. And the new fans could care less.

Hire a third party respected testing group. Show transparency in their testing and discipline process. And get back to racing.

05/13/2009 07:38 PM

One more thing.

why isn’t Marcos Ambrose in the rookie hunt?

He’s right in the thick of that too.

Don Mei
05/13/2009 08:19 PM

So Bowles is annoyed that Johnson backed off and didnt mount a banzai charge for first place. Too bad; kind of obvious (to me anyway) that Mr. Bowles has never found himself on a racetrack exhausted and fighting an ill-handling car or motorcycle. Arm chair quarterbacking is so easy.

05/13/2009 11:07 PM

It must be nice to have all the answers all the time. But for all us unenlightened goof offs who don’t know our tail from a hole in the ground, right on Bowles. This sight is about provoking thought, not abusing someone, other than France and Co., and is not scientific by any means. And my wife is an RN, and I don’t want to hear about her days work, aside from the point she can’t tell. So you just go right on asking your questions, we’ll still give you our 2 bits worth (thats 25 cents, before someone asks), and we won’t belittle you too much, unless you start cutting down a driver for doing his job.

Kevin in SoCal
05/14/2009 01:20 AM

Bob, Ambrose raced more than 7 races in 2008, so he is not eligible to run for Rookie of the Year in 2009.


Contact Tom Bowles

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