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Is Catching Mayfield Enough? NASCAR Should Have No Restraint When It Comes to Drug Testing

Editor’s Note: Beyond the Cockpit, our weekly driver interview feature, will return next week. In its place we have a special article by our own Bryan Davis Keith about the Jeremy Mayfield incident and its aftermath.

Just as Major League Baseball’s new era of drug policing caught perhaps its biggest name yet in Manny Ramirez, just last week NASCAR’s enhanced drug testing policy snared the most notable driver in recent memory for substance abuse in Jeremy Mayfield, a two-time Chase contender and current Sprint Cup owner. After the positive test was announced just prior to Saturday night’s race at Richmond, the veteran has been sidelined indefinitely and prevented from even associating his name with the No. 41 Toyota he’s driven since February.

Mayfield is disputing the test results, and the case remains unresolved as to whether or not his claim that allergy medications are responsible for a “false positive.” It’s shaping up to be a rather nasty fight, indeed, with the substance in question not being publicly named while the veteran considers possible legal action to compel his return to the sport. But while innocent until proven guilty may seem to lean towards allowing Mayfield to race until those results are confirmed, NASCAR did the right thing in responding to a major name testing positive: They got the person in question off the racetrack, and in doing so went a long way towards demonstrating their sincerity in enforcing their drug-free policies.

For that, credit should deservedly go to NASCAR for stepping up to the plate and responding to what was a glaring shortcoming in its sanctioning practices after Aaron Fike admitted to racing under the influence of heroin back in the spring of 2008. The fact that Mayfield was caught and suspended, however, is not proof positive that all is well with regard to drug testing in big-time stock car racing.

This random test just happened to land a big fish… but is the sport doing enough to land the next smoking gun?

According to what was learned by the media this offseason as to the nature of NASCAR’s new testing policy, four drivers and a dozen or so crew members are being randomly screened each race weekend. That’s a marked improvement from the old policy that merely tested on “reasonable suspicion” – but that doesn’t mean it’s a comprehensive program, either. Just look at the numbers; on any given race weekend, there’s 40-plus drivers and hundreds of crewmen at the track. Random testing will persuade a number of racers to stay clean, sure; but with less than a 10% chance of getting tested, there’s plenty of others that could be willing to play the odds. It’s one wide, sweeping gray area that still allows for those drivers and crew members inclined towards drug use to keep indulging themselves. With such a slow rate of testing, it means some drivers might not have to submit to one for the first time until Memorial Day weekend – one of only three times they might be checked up on during an entire 36-race season.

That type of minimal scrutiny is just not enough given the inherent danger of NASCAR racing to begin with. In a sport that involves men driving 800-horsepower cars at 200 mph, there is absolutely no room for any kind of drug-influenced behavior. Drugs don’t just endanger the men behind the cockpit, either; they’re always a few dozen feet from thousands of spectators, as well as crew members handling highly flammable substances while doing high-speed auto work in an environment the equivalent of a traffic-filled highway. One mistake, and as Carl Edwards showed at Talladega, a car could be hurtling in a tragic direction either into the grandstands, pit road or even the infield itself.

Further, unlike stick-and-ball sports, there is little, if any, use for performance-enhancing drugs in stock car racing. So chances are if there’s a positive test in the NASCAR garage, it’s not going to be a steroid, but something more illicit and likely more dangerous for anyone who slides behind the wheel. The message is clear: in the perilous, high-speed garages of NASCAR, there is absolutely no room for tolerance of intoxication. So, the only way to ensure that this doesn’t happen is to test every team member. At every track. Every race weekend.

This task is not too much to ask of NASCAR or its competitors. Considering how much screaming and hollering was done by fans and the media alike following the Edwards/Brad Keselowski melee at Talladega (over safety features that actually worked), how a policy that would leave no room for any doubt that everyone taking to the track was clean could even be remotely opposed is beyond me.

To settle here is disingenuous, given that NASCAR made such a public stance that they were taking the lead in sports sanctioning with regard to drug testing. Such a stance also remains consistent with a sanctioning body that has always prided itself on making safety first. And if they’re looking to keep it that way, a drug-free environment for competition should move to number one on their priority list.

But is a small-time, random testing program enough to achieve that level of importance? If there’s one thing drug offenders in other sports have shown us in recent years, they’re no slouches in learning how to keep up with both technology and a changing drug testing culture. So when NASCAR made the decision to announce a fixed date for the tests, Ryan Newman was very quick to point out, “The whole idea of announcing it kind of takes away from the people that know how to cheat the system. Obviously, I know there’s probably going to be some follow-ups with certain people… but it just seems to me that you’re only eliminating the really, really naïve people in the first testing or in the first screening like this.”

That’s an astute observation that didn’t take an engineer to make — and one that a number of crewmen and at least one driver abusing drugs have already figured out a workaround for. As a result, the only way that fixed-date drug testing is to truly work as a deterrent would be to test on fixed dates in intervals that make drug use between testing impossible… kind of like how weekly tests for 38 weeks would work.

NASCAR has ascended to the ranks of a major professional sporting entity because it was unafraid to be different from the pro stick ‘n’ ball sports. And there is no need for them to be afraid to be different here. By making weekly drug tests mandatory across the board at every track, NASCAR will find itself at the forefront of sporting safety and sanctity of competition.

Come on, Brian France. Even you can get this one right.

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12 thoughts on “Is Catching Mayfield Enough? NASCAR Should Have No Restraint When It Comes to Drug Testing”

  1. While I agree with you in theory, I wonder this…Do you test at practice on Thursday? On Qualifying day Friday or Race Day Sunday?

    Where is the line drawn at driver and fan safety? Does NASCAR mandate multiple drug tests during race weekend or a rolling testing procedure to test every driver and crew member throughout each weekend’s activities. You are right–random testing may net you a big fish every now and then, but any good fisherman knows the best way to catch on a consistent basis is to blanket the area over several attempts. Then, and only then, if you come up empty–you know there is nothing there.

    Just my two cents.

  2. I’ll believe that NASCAR’s drug testing program actually works when they finally catch Mr. Roid-Rage, aka Carl Edwards! And when they do, and finally ban this idiot from NASCAR, hopefully they will also ban the rest of that entire organization and leave the sport to the truely honest and upstanding teams who make NASCAR what it is. Of course, I’m referring to Hendrick Motorsports!

  3. Remember your zero tolerance policy the next time you hop into your own car and hit the road to go to work after taking “cold” medicine. I do agree that there should be zero tolerance for ABUSE of any kind of med, but a Vicodin prescribed and taken according to direction is no more sedating (for “most” people) than a Benadryl taken for allergies. I would still like to see “The List”. I’m still not convinced NA$CAR would boot Jeff Gordon if he was busted for taking something for his back.

  4. I think Carl Edwards and Jack Roush need to get a lawyer and file suite against Mike for deffimation of character. This clown does nothing but bash one of Nascars best organizations. Oh and by the way you will not have to worry about me commenting on this sight again. People like Mike ruin it for me. Thanks and goodbye. Oh and Mike I hope you get a letter from Roush real soon.

  5. @SCS,
    No more sedating than Benedryl?

    Benedryl is so good at sedating people that doctors give it “off-label” as a non-addictive sleep aid.

    A half-dose of Benedryl will put me into a fog for 6-8 hours. A full dose knocks me unconscious for 4-6 hours and leaves me with symptoms identical to a hangover for another 6-8 hours.

    OTC, even commonly used, universally available OTC doesn’t mean safe and non-impairing.

  6. Darn, don’t you just wish you could trust NA$CRAP on this drug testing issue?

    There appears to be something “phony” or “not right” about this whole thing! While one never knows another person 100%, I knew Jeremy in the past and talk about someone “squeaky clean”!

    I wonder if their “random” testing is really random? Gee, come to think of it, I wonder if Jr. has ever been “randomly” tested and if so have those results been “properly” handled?

    See, don’t you just wish you could REALLY TRUST NA$CRAP on the entire drug testing process?

    I know I can’t!

    NEVER has NA$CRAP been totally un-biased on applying the “rules”!

    Is this yet another case of the same?

    And what about the head honcho of NA$CRAP and his drinking problems?

    Wonder if Mike Helton ever took a “random” drug test? after watching some of his decisions at the track one has to wonder!

    Actually, I hope Jeremy wins this one!

  7. Mike, at the risk of being attacked by you, I am a fan of Jack Roush AND Carl Edwards, and I take offence to your comments! First of all, this roid-rage garbage is old! If you think for one minute that NASCAR hasn’t tested Edwards for drugs, your head is somewhere it shouldn’t be! NASCAR has never, at least in my memory, ever cut anyone from Roush any slack! So you can bet your home that they have tested Edwards several times! After they made the statement that it “might” have been Claritin that caused Mayfield to fail the test, If I were the makers of Claritin, I would have told France and Company to take a long walk off a short pier! And if there is one thing NASCAR doesn’t need right now, is to be bad-mouthing any sponsor! Too, if the drug tests were run at Richmond, why on earth did Hunter wait so long to anounce the results? So that negated your comment yesterday about taking Kenseth’s win away!

    By the way, Mike, you lost all credibility when you described Hendrick and his organisation as honest! There are a few Honda executives that will disagree with you! oh, to have such a short memory! Give it a rest!!

    On a lighter note, I love the news about Penske thinking about buying the Saturn brand from G.M.! That’s one way to cover your racing business if the manufacturer you represent pulls out! Supply your own manufacturer!

  8. I essentially agree that NASCAR hasnt gone far enough in their testing samples but testing every driver and every crew member every weekend is overkill. A statistically sound, properly managed system of random testing would achieve the same results while minimizing the difficulty and hassle for everyone. Note that I said a PROPERLY MANAGED system…..which means a top flight, completely independent testing organization. Maybe one approach would be to statistically select two random finishing positions from week to week…say fourth and twenty third this week announced after the event, and then test those two drivers and crews.

  9. Anyone who will call the Hendrick organization “honest” is probably going to flunk nascrap’s drug test!!
    Roid rage? I think the author of that little item might be “raging mad”

  10. Watching NASCAR with only four Hendrick teams would be pretty boring for the rest of us. And you wouldnt have anyone to make up stories about.

  11. I always find it funny that “Mike” will spew abunch of nonsense about Roush and its drivers but never back it up with any real credible info. And then when everybody starts ripping into him, never has to guts to come back and back up his original statement. Which most of the time his statements, are just laughable.

    I’m not a big Roush fan and surely not a Edwards fan but Mike’s” continual tirades are a little much.

  12. Seems like when the media gets hold of a story like Mayfield’s, all sense of fair play goes out the window. It’s a story so run with it even if it’s not been proven. I’m not a big fan of sports media and this includes nas$car. Before you folks start condemning someone, wait for some kind of proof.

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