The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Mayfield Burned At The Stake, Sadler's Recurring Nightmare, And A Champ Cashing In by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday July 22, 2009

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Did You Notice? … That in light of everything that’s happened over the past week, there’s a large army of media, fans, garage members, etc. looking to tar and feather Jeremy Mayfield before all the evidence has even been collected?

I had a hard-nosed debate with Dennis Michelsen of Monday night about this issue, one I’m still steaming about because I felt I didn’t do a very good job of proving my point. In case you missed it, Dennis was trying to force me to admit that by continuing to believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, I would have to agree that NASCAR not only tainted a urine sample, but bribed Mayfield’s stepmother into signing an affidavit in which she lied about seeing her stepson take methamphetamines. He did a great job proving his point, and it’s true: The latest set of evidence makes even attempting to validate the man’s claims of innocence the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest.

But if I was thinking on my feet during that hearty discussion, the first two words that should have come out of my mouth were “Tim Richmond.” One of the sport’s up-and-coming superstars in the mid-1980s, it looked like Richmond was destined for stardom after winning six times in a Rick Hendrick ride in the 1986 season. But after a mysterious illness forced him to miss much of 1987, Richmond’s ability to race was seriously called into question.

While Richmond still hoped to continue his career, what happened next is more than enough to sicken your stomach. As our own Matt McLaughlin has so passionately explained many times, NASCAR bent over backwards to lie, cheat, and force that man out of the sport any way they could due to an illness they didn’t understand – one that later turned out to be AIDS. After claiming the driver failed a drug test prior to the 1988 Busch Clash, Richmond was banned indefinitely from the sport without specifics on what happened.

Tim Richmond’s suspicious dismissal from NASCAR set a dangerous precedent… one that may yet exonerate Jeremy Mayfield.

Well, two years after his 1990 death, we found out the ugly details behind what should have been a civil lawsuit. Dr. Forest Tennant, the man who administered the tests, was fired by NASCAR over allegedly tainting the results in 1988. Turns out, you see, that the substance Mr. Richmond tested positive for was nothing more than an over-the-counter cold remedy; but in their fear of the disease and Richmond returning to the track, the sport worked to do everything in its power to assure the “health risk” was first quarantined … then properly removed. Whether it was legal or not didn’t really matter, because the bottom line was the sport wasn’t really worried about getting caught. After all, they never had before … so why now?

All of this madness brings us back to the present day. What Mayfield is accusing the sport of is some pretty hefty stuff, I agree. If you buy his side of the argument, you have to believe in conspiracy theories and a pretty crazy stepmother that would ignore family ties in favor of blatant lies that would stab her stepson square in the back. But the bottom line in this case is that NASCAR has been down this road once before. And once a precedent has been set … you can’t just dismiss a similar story when one pops up 20 years later. So many have said how outrageous Mayfield’s side of the story has become. Yet how many times have we seen power go to someone’s head to the point they start to break the law without even worrying about the consequences? Because after years of getting away with murder, they’re taught to believe there’s no situation in which they’ll ever get caught…

Now, let me make this clear … I’m not saying Mayfield is innocent, but I’m sure as hell not about to abandon this story and proclaim he’s guilty, either. What we need right now is more information. We need the drug tests Jeremy claimed to have taken to all come in and show a bunch of negative results as he claims. We need this “video” of the documentary Mayfield’s shooting proving what happened in and around the days he took those tests. We, as reporters, need to speak to more than Mr. Mayfield’s stepmother, finding friends and relatives who either corroborate or deny her stories of Mayfield meth use. Then, and only then, can we begin to lean in one direction or the other.

Of course, modern-day America needs to give us that chance to investigate, too. In this Twitter / Facebook society, people want answers as to someone’s immediate innocence or guilt. But the story’s not that simple, the ending not pre-written. The biggest thing this case needs right now is time to unfold – and reporters continuing to throw their own opinions and bias aside in favor of finding the true answers.

I’m hoping that’ll happen in the coming weeks; but with the op-eds I’ve seen so far, one wonders if Mayfield will be burned at the stake long before then. If that’s the case, I just hope that each and every one of those writers realizes the consequences of their actions. Because if they’re not … they’ve put the final nails in the coffin on a reputation this man may never get back even if he does turn out to be innocent.

Did You Notice? … Elliott Sadler needs to get over the Daytona 500? I was thinking this over when reading up on one of the driver’s favorite pastimes: golf. Most of us were captivated Sunday by Tom Watson’s near-miracle at the British Open, where the 59-year-old nearly turned back the clock in coming one hole and one shot from winning another major. But with the trophy firmly within his grasp, Watson missed an eight-foot par putt, and in an instant his impression changed from nervous anticipation to the pain experienced by a runner-up who still had to go through the motions. Sure, there was a four-hole playoff left – Watson had fallen into a tie for the lead – but the great ones already know when they’ve lost.

Elliott Sadler’s season may have turned out differently had the rain fallen only a minute sooner at Daytona in February.

With that type of devastation revealed to the general public, you’d think Watson would be salivating over coming so close for weeks. Instead, he walked into the media center and said, “This isn’t a funeral, you know.” This week, he’ll rebound by playing the Senior British Open before picking his career right back up where he left it – the Champions Tour.

The next day, I read an article about Sadler in NASCAR Illustrated and felt he really could learn some things from Watson’s day. In the feature (fabulous article, by the way, written by Jared Turner) one of the first things Sadler describes is his continual pain on missing out on the trophy for this year’s Great American Race. As I’m sure you’re all aware, Sadler led 24 straight laps before being passed by Matt Kenseth mere seconds before the final caution flag of the day for rain. Minutes later, the race was red flagged and, just like Watson, Sadler had to go through the motions in waiting for another chance he knew had already slipped through his grasp. A short time later, Kenseth was declared the winner, breaking apart a miracle moment which could have seen Sadler go from getting kicked off his race team in January to sitting in Daytona’s Victory Lane with the same car.

Man, what a wonderful story that would have been for a guy with such a kind, caring personality that you can’t help but wish him the best. But five months and two weeks later, it’s time for Sadler to man up and finally accept that not all wishes always come true. On the track, he’s never been the same, failing to score another top 5 finish while leading just 11 laps in the last 18 races. Sitting 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings, he’s on track to miss the Chase for a fifth straight year, the potent potential of a young superstar turned into the uncertain future of a veteran who many think has already been given far too many chances.

Heading into Indianapolis, this weekend could be critical for Sadler. It’s the first time his No. 19 car has been given the new R6P8 Dodge engine, the same powerplant that’s turned teammate Kasey Kahne from regular dude to rocket ship in just eight weeks. There’s no better place for Sadler to get a little extra boost, as he finished fourth last year with a car that led five laps on the day. Indy’s also the place where he came close to winning his other big race, winning the pole in 2005 and leading 39 laps before a flat tire sent him tumbling backwards to 32nd.

With future sponsorship for Richard Petty Motorsports hanging in the balance, there’s concern as to whether 2010 will bring enough room at the inn for a man still winless since moving over from Yates in 2006. It’s now or never for Sadler to prove his worth to the organization … and to do that, he needs to stop grieving over the past.

Because the thing that differentiates Watson and Sadler is, at 34, the latter could have plenty more chances to win the races he so desperately covets.

Did You Notice? … Juan Pablo Montoya could be the first driver to make the Chase without a top 5 finish? Considering how much the man has improved behind the wheel of a stock car, you’d think that consistency would have netted him at least one run of fifth place or better. But through 19 events, the best run for Montoya has been sixth – twice – at Michigan and Infineon.

Considering how many fans complain about drivers who qualify for the Chase without a win, imagine the uproar if Montoya does it without even a top 5 under his belt (in case you’re wondering, the record for the fewest top 5s for a Chaser throughout the course of a season is four – set by Jeremy Mayfield in 2005 and matched by Kevin Harvick two years later). But, believe it or not, drivers have finished as high as seventh in points during the modern era doing just that. Buddy Arrington and James Hylton share that record since the modern-era point system was installed in 1975. In Hylton’s case, he collected a total of 11 top 10 finishes – none of which were higher than seventh – in winding up 1,524 points behind Cale Yarborough for the championship.

Of course, in Montoya’s case, he could go winless with well over a dozen top 10 finishes come Chase time yet when the points get reset in September, he’ll be a mere 40 or 50 behind the leader heading into the 10-race playoff.

Fair? Hardly. But that’s what you get under this system.

Did You Notice? … A legend who just can’t sit and let his record stand for itself? A trio of former 1990s superstars these days find themselves in very different situations heading to Indianapolis. There’s 50-year-old Mark Martin, enjoying a career renaissance behind the wheel of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Then, there’s Bill Elliott, at 53 and driving with every ounce of effort he’s got in trying to get the single-car Wood Brothers team back on track before he fully retires. It hasn’t been glamorous, with no top 10 finishes in 46 starts with the team. But without him … everyone agrees the No. 21 car and equipment would have stood a good chance of being sold at auction this offseason.

So, we’ve got two drivers with admirable intentions to stay active … and one devolving into questionable motives. Since “retiring” in 2006, Terry Labonte’s been lured into a handful of substitute roles for teams in need of some serious help. In 2007, he spent a three-race stint behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip’s faltering No. 55 simply to assure the car would make the field as well as give an all-important evaluation as to how things were going (at the time, Michael had gone through an awful stretch of failing to qualify in 12 of 13 races). Then, the following year he filled in for Kyle Petty during his six-race stint as broadcaster for TNT, collecting two top 20 finishes before returning to drive the car in a handful of events later in the year.

Those runs, while virtually guaranteed to be in uncompetitive rides, were understandable given the circumstances surrounding how Labonte was helping the program. But now, his latest stint behind the wheel is bound to raise some eyebrows. Taking on a five-race deal with John Carter’s No. 08 team, Labonte will take the unsponsored Toyota to the track at Indy guaranteed to make the field due to that coveted past champion’s provisional. Yet while Carter’s been around a long time, you wonder why Labonte, at 52, would make a comeback with a car that’s going to struggle simply to keep up with the lead pack. Nothing against the team itself, but single-car outfits are far from front-running operations in Cup these days; and unlike Elliott and the Woods, Carter doesn’t have the money, history, or infrastructure within the program to be a viable contender.

Yes, I’m sure hunting and fishing out on the lake can get boring for even the best of us after awhile. But for a man who’s won two Cup titles and has nothing left to prove, why tarnish your rep simply to do little more than collect a paycheck? Because, let’s face it, money has to be part of the processing behind his return. Back in February, Labonte took the usually start-and-park No. 66 Prism Motorsports car, drove it around the back of the pack at Daytona in a one-race deal, and collected a cool $273,963 for 24th place. Not bad for a Sunday drive; and considering Indy offers one of the biggest purses on the Sprint Cup circuit, if not the biggest, it’s hard not to make that type of correlation.

Don’t get me wrong; as we saw with Watson above, it’s nice to see veterans give it one more shot to relive their former glory if they’ve got the chance. But when it’s clear that the circumstances won’t dictate success … isn’t Labonte putting his image at risk? Picking and choosing races in which to collect some cash isn’t exactly the way I would want to go out …

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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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07/22/2009 08:17 AM

Thank you for such a well written article on the Jeremy Mayfield thing!


Go Jeremy!

And “precedent” means nothing to these idiots running NA$CRAP!

The “precedent” from the past was GOOD & HONEST RACING!

07/22/2009 09:12 AM

Its astonishing how a blogger who maintains hes a long time fan of everything Nascar can be so clueless about everything Nascar . Let me catch you up on what you’ve missed . The Wood brothers team has fallen on very hard times over the last ten years or so , and even though they are a ghost Roush team , the only way for them to qualify for races was to put Elliott in the car . They had their choice of a lot of drivers , but they chose a past champion . Now i certainly don’t mean to belittle the Woods nor any other small team trying to survive ( unlike a blogger or two i could mention ) but thats the facts . Martin never actually retired , so i fail to see any comparison to Elliott or Labonte . And heres where the reasoning really gets twisted . Your theory is that Terry Labonte should sit on the porch and stay out of a CUP car because he would be enabling his team in the exact same way that Elliott does , only with a ( according to you ) less derserving team . So unless a past champion can align himself with a top caliber team , he should be required to stay retired . Brilliant reasoning Tom . Terry Labonte has proven his ability over the years , and if he has a desire to come back and race , no matter what the motivation , he certainly doesn’t need anyones permission .

Joe in Pittsburgh
07/22/2009 09:51 AM

Rregarding the old veterans or champions coming back- I give some leeway to Martin for doing what he is doing simply because when he “retired” (and yes Ryan he did retire because ya know you dont have a retirement tour and fan appreciation tour without believing it-partial schedule be damned) he was still a successful Cup driver with wins and high points finishes. Also,after being robbed in 92 by Nascar and denied the title,the fire surely burns inside him to right a wrong. As for elliott and Labonte,I feel Elliott is doing a favor for old friends or car maker and that’s that. Now being a longtime Terry Labonte fan,I must simply say that I would rather he stay retired than come out and ride around collecting a paycheck because you cannot tell me he is doing any favors when he seems to pop up on any old team whether it was Prism,MWM,or the old 96 DLP team. He just appears to be whoring himself out and quite frankly I would rather not see this because just to have your driver out there just for sakes sake isnt what I want to see. It makes him not much better than DW who made a sham of the system in the Tobasco fiasco. I think you Ryan might need to get a clue instead of bashing the author of this article.

07/22/2009 10:15 AM

I’m sure NASCAR has a corporate drug testing policy for their employees like most large companies . I wonder if there have been false positives toward employees in the past , and what were the outcomes .

07/22/2009 02:25 PM

Hey Michael, your “ I wonder if there have been false positives toward employees in the past , and what were the outcomes .”, well, let me tell you what King Brian stated at a press conference a week or so ago. He said: “LOTS OF OUR PEOPLE HAVE FAILED THE DRUG TESTS”!



Now, that may not be word for word, I do not have a recording of the press conference, but did watch it!


He also said more, but you get the gist of things! And just watching this idiot giving a press conference just gives one the willies! A snake if you have ever seen one!

07/22/2009 03:21 PM

Mayfields story would seem crazy, except…Stepmother is a TERRIBLE witness, even if found not guilty “technically” in is Dad’s death…probably contributed in some way, at least in Jeremy’s mind…her credibility would be under question by ANY court.

The Judge indeed should have a INSISTED a 3rd party lab do the testing. Certainly Dr Black doing more tests is a conflict of interest.

With NASCARS well know history of lies, cover-ups and heavy handedness rivaling the Nazi party…maybe, just maybe, Mayfields claims are not all that crazy.

07/22/2009 03:32 PM

What people tend to miss about the stepmom is that she has no real ties to Jeremy or the Mayfields. She married Jeremy’s dad but was never a part of the family. She hasn’t had any contact with Jeremy in over four years other than messages attempting to extort money. When the drug story broke she was on Jeremy’s Las Vegas Journal blog and said, “Jeremy, contact me ASAP because the Enquirer already has.” That says all you need to know about her. This isn’t your typical stepmom situation. This is and always was a gold digger deluxe.

Now she is trying to avoid a wrongful death suit by discrediting Mayfield. This witness has no credibility and NASCAR knows this. They pulled her out in desperation to make a media splash and get under Mayfield’s skin.

Have you noticed how we have heard nothing from her or about her since the initial buzz. My bet is reporters have called and talked to her but realized there is nothing to see there.

07/22/2009 04:37 PM

Concerning the Mayfield fiasco , check out the column in the Tuesday New York Times sports section . That story takes this to a whole new level , and after reading it you will realise that NASCAR is not looking too good . The Times actually investigated , and interviewed some of the top drug test experts in the country . What they found pretty much sinks NASCAR and their test policy .

Richard in N.C.
07/22/2009 04:44 PM

In the typical way the New York Times handles things the writer apparently did not think it necessary to talk to anyone at NASCAR. It is easier to write if you only deal with the side of the story you want. Check with the now crucified Sammy Sosa about the objectivity of the NY Times.

07/22/2009 04:47 PM


Bill Elliott has qualified for every race he’s attempted this year on time, not once using the Past Champion’s provisional. His only finish outside of the top 30 was due to being caught up in a crash. He may not be setting the world on fire, but he shows up to race and does it well for being in a small team with a low budget.

If Bill started 43rd every week and knocked out a team that qualified better, you’d have a legitimate complaint.

Terry’s last two starts at the Brickyard were 43rd, as was his only start this year at Daytona.

The Past Champion’s provisional as it exists now has probably outlived its usefulness now that the top-35 rule is in effect, since the only times a past champ would need to use it are when he isn’t trying to run the whole schedule or when he’s starting a new team. This way, we see people hiring Terry to drive in the big-purse races when they know it’s the only way to get the car in… and there’s something about that that doesn’t seem very fair to cars that could out-qualify and still not get in. Maybe it’s time to tweak that rule?

07/22/2009 04:57 PM

Mr. Ryan. Seems to me that Mr. Elliott has qualified very well this year, in fact 8th at the last race. The Wood’s car was also the fastest Ford. Seems to me without looking it up, he and the Wood’s car qualified well last season

07/22/2009 06:51 PM

The question that needs to be asked is why NASCAR/Aegis will only allow the B sample be tested by three other labs (as reported by Marty Smith on NASCAR Now, 2 in the US and 1 in Canada). There are 39 different labs that are on the “Current List of Laboratories Which Meet Minimum Standards To Engage in Urine Drug Testing for Federal Agencies”
Labcorp in NC is one of those on the list(Aegis is on as well) that said during Mayfield’s last test did not include any methamphetamines.
Does anyone else smell something fishy about this?
If NASCAR/Aegis has nothing to hide why not send the B sample to one of these labs (not necessarily Labcorp or one of the three determined by NASCAR/Aegis)? If these are acceptable to the federal government, why are they unacceptable to NASCAR/Aegis?
The fact that the B sample sits in an Aegis lab somewhere means that this will not end for a long time. If NASCAR/Aegis really believes that their process is so much better than every other lab in North America that only three other labs can detect what they detect, what does that say? Someone who has the level of methamphetamines in his system as Mayfield has been described as having.
Broward County (Fla.) medical examiner Dr. Harold Schueler, who reportedly stated in an affidavit that the methamphetamine level allegedly found in Mayfield’s urine in testing by Aegis Labs not only was “astronomical,” but also “could not be remotely accurate, unless Mr. Mayfield was deceased or a chronic abuser,” according to the Associated Press.
If noone other than three labs on this list can discern this then what does that say about the testing procedures of all these other labs? Only three labs in this country can catch a chronic meth abuser? I don’t think so. There is some serious ass covering trying to go on here. I understand that unless actually observed, you can cheat the system, but that’s were the B sample comes in. If the 35 other companies on this list are not good enough for NASCAR/Aegis, what does that say?

07/22/2009 11:24 PM

Excellent points Kevin. I’m willing to bet all three labs on Black’s list have some kind of business connection with Aegis Labs. Black probably has some authority or pull with those labs. The judge shouldn’t allow Black or Aegis to have any input into which labs are acceptable. According to NASCAR’s own policy any SAMSHA certified lab should be acceptable and that includes LabCorp. Black is definitely trying to hide something here.

Richard in N.C.
07/23/2009 01:17 AM

And maybe the only lab to test urine from JM is Aegis.


Contact Tom Bowles

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