- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. | Jeremy Mayfield missed the deadline to enter this weekend’s race after successfully fighting NASCAR to get back behind the wheel following a failed random drug test.

His only hope for participating in Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway is as a relief driver, a change NASCAR must approve.

“That’s something that’s at the discretion of the series director,” said John Darby, director of the Sprint Cup Series.

As the cars fired their engines Thursday for the first practice session of the weekend, the Mayfield watch ended roughly 24 hours after a federal judge lifted the indefinite suspension and cleared him to race at Daytona. Mayfield’s absence calmed at least one driver, who was admittedly uncomfortable driving against Mayfield now that NASCAR said he tested positive for methamphetamines in a urine sample collected May 1.

“A federal judge releasing someone to drive without clarifying everything, that’s not cool,” said Ryan Newman, one of the most vocal drivers about drug testing since Mayfield’s suspension. “People make mistakes. I hope the judge didn’t make one.”

Mayfield sued NASCAR over the suspension, which covered his roles as owner and driver of the No. 41 Mayfield Motorsports Toyota. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen issued a temporary injunction based on the argument that NASCAR’s testing system is flawed.

Although Mayfield said he intended to travel to Daytona, he wasn’t sure he would be able to compete because of the short turnaround. He’s admittedly cash-strapped, revealing in an affidavit last week that since his suspension May 9 he has had to lay off 10 employees, borrow money from family and sell personal assets to cover his living expenses. Triad Racing Technologies also is suing Mayfield for more than $86,000 for parts, pieces and chassis work he reportedly owes the company.

The outstanding balance would make it difficult for him to purchase a motor to use in the No. 41, and he also would have had to pay a $5,005 late entry fee to bring his own car to Daytona.

His other option was finding a team owner willing to give him a ride. Ten teams are trying to qualify for eight open spots in Saturday night’s race, but only a handful likely would consider making a driver change to accommodate Mayfield. Of them, Tommy Baldwin, Larry Gunselman, Joe Nemechek and Phil Parsons said they weren’t interested.

“Whether he’s right, wrong or different right now, he’s marked,” said Baldwin, an interim crew chief for Mayfield in 2007. “And that’s going to hurt him probably for the rest of his career.”

Driving Gunselman’s No. 64 was believed to be Mayfield’s best opportunity at Daytona, but Gunselman said discount store Fred’s, which signed on to sponsor the car this weekend, did not want to associate itself with Mayfield.

Gunselman, who does not have a sponsor lined up for next week in Chicago, said he would be willing to work with Mayfield going forward.

“I’m hoping all parties can put this thing behind them and move forward in a positive manner,” he said. “If I can help mediate that or be somehow involved in that, that would be wonderful.”

There was mixed reaction throughout the garage. Many drivers said they believed Mayfield will blend right in when he returns, but Baldwin doesn’t think it will be so easy.

“We all like Jeremy - there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is the last couple months here, he’s gone through his struggles and it’s not going to help him in the business world of racing - that’s for sure.”

Plus, finding work or getting his own team back to the track will be a challenge.

“He didn’t have a job prior to this,” Jeff Burton said. “Without a doubt, there’s now an asterisk next to his name, and that’s going to make it a whole lot harder.”

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