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RICHMOND, Va. -- Jeremy Mayfield's mind was on making a delivery, far away from what's happening in the Sprint Cup Series, as he maneuvered his big truck through the back roads of Georgia.
It's part of what Mayfield does these days between planning a comeback in racing and battling NASCAR in court.
|Jeremy Mayfield had to lead the most laps and win the 2004 spring race at Richmond to make the Chase, and he did both.|
But Mayfield understands the desperation felt by Ryan Newman, who is 117 points out of the final Chase spot heading into Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway. He gets it when Jamie McMurray, the next driver back at 128 out, says he can't do anything more than he's done all season.
Before Mayfield became NASCAR's poster boy for drug suspensions last season, he was the poster boy for Chase miracles.
Let me refresh. In 2004, the Chase's inaugural season, Mayfield entered Richmond 14th in points, 55 behind Mark Martin for the final spot of what was then a 10-driver playoff. McMurray, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett were between 25 and 33 points back.
The ebb and flow of the night was exhilarating as drivers moved in and out of the top 10. The biggest turn came on Lap 206, when Mayfield's Evernham Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, spun out and lost two laps.
That ultimately cost Kahne a spot in the Chase and opened the door for Mayfield, who entered the night needing to lead the most laps and win, which he did.
Sadly, we haven't seen anything like it since and likely won't again on Saturday.
"The whole week going into it we could have very easily have just said it was over," Mayfield recalled as his cell phone phased in and out. "We knew it was a long shot to make it. But it was just so cool, because we all remained calm and were willing to do what we had to do, and everything fell together.
"It's what everybody dreams about, where your car is awesome, the calls are good and everything goes your way. It was almost like a miracle happened for you."
Mayfield hasn't kept up much with what has happened this season. Other than knowing there's not much drama heading into this weekend barring a miracle twice the one he had, his focus has been on getting his life back in order.
He has a few racing deals in the works, one that could put him in a dirt-track car for some late-season, big-money events and another that could put him in an open-wheel car next season.
Mayfield's battle with NASCAR is about to heat up again, too, as he plans an appeal if he loses the lawsuit the governing body has against him.
Like the 2004 weekend at Richmond, he's not giving up.
"You know I'm not going to give up," Mayfield said. "I would never do that."
Mayfield hasn't competed in a Cup event since last season's spring race at Richmond. He was suspended on May 9 for violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy, coming up positive for methamphetamine in a random test taken a week earlier.
Mayfield insisted at the time he had a false positive test as the result of taking Adderall for ADHD and Claritin-D for allergies.
He sticks to that claim today.
Whether you believe he's guilty or not, you have to give him props for conviction.
Some have suggested that Mayfield should have done what two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie did earlier this year after testing positive for marijuana. LaJoie admitted he made a mistake, enrolled in a drug rehab program and already has been reinstated.
When suggested in retrospect that might have been best for him, Mayfield's voice went up an octave.
"It's not what I should have done," he said. "[LaJoie] went off and got whatever [treatment] they said and came back. I understand that totally. If he didn't smoke pot and they said he did smoke pot, he wouldn't have gone through that. That's the difference."
The pressure of making the Chase six years ago was nothing compared to what Mayfield has endured the past year. If he failed in 2004, he knew he'd live to race again. Now there are no guarantees.
It's what everybody dreams about, where your car is awesome, the calls are good and everything goes your way. It was almost like a miracle happened for you.” -- Jeremy Mayfield on winning at Richmond to make the 2004 Chase
You still can hear the frustration in his voice as he pleads his case.
"Did I want to stay in this for a year and a half and not race and be in court battles with NASCAR?" Mayfield asked. "Hell, no! I never wanted to do that. But I had no choice but to do that. They put me in a situation where I had nothing else to do. There was no way of contesting anything they did because they weren't wrong. They never are."The only choice I had was the choice they presented to me, and that was to fight it. I didn't want to. Hell, no, I didn't want to. I'd much rather have been racing, worrying about driving race cars and not all this other stuff."
The ordeal ultimately became an embarrassment for NASCAR and Mayfield.
For NASCAR, the credibility of its new testing program came into question because there wasn't an official list of banned substances, which since has been added to the policy.
"NASCAR treats any SAP [substance abuse policy] violation the same way," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston wrote in an e-mail Friday. "Following a failed test the person who failed is consulted by [a] medical review officer to verify if there is any other explanation. In the case with Mayfield, all that was done, he chose not to have the B Sample tested and subsequently failed a second test. The fact that the court thoroughly reviewed all the information and dismissed the case in favor of NASCAR confirms that we followed the law, and our process, and there was no credible evidence to support his claims."
For Mayfield, beyond being tagged as a user of illegal drugs, he had to auction off everything in his race shop and a few other things to have money to live on. He also became embroiled in legal suits with his stepmother, whom he claimed was involved in the 2007 death of his father even though court records show it was suicide.
Saturday's race could only hope for half that drama.
"I look back and think, 'Why did it ever get this far?'" Mayfield said. "It shouldn't have been this far. [NASCAR] could say the same thing. I don't think they ever intended it to get this far, and it's not over yet."
That may not be, but the battle to make the Chase is. Greg Biffle can clinch one of the two remaining spots by finishing 42nd, which basically means show up with all the start-and-parkers in the field. Clint Bowyer can wrap up the other spot by finishing 28th no matter what his competitors do.
In other words, Newman or McMurray would have to pull a "Mayfield" and lead the most laps, win the race and hope something catastrophic happens to Bowyer.
It can happen. Mayfield proved it could in 2004, even though the odds are much greater today. Say what you will about what's gone down in the past year, that performance was the most clutch in the Chase's regular-season history."[For] Jeremy, a pretty spectacular night, leading all those laps and winning the race," Biffle recalled Friday. "Certainly he proved he was competitive enough at that point to be in the Chase. That was pretty exciting for him to do that. It was exciting for his team."
From the decision to take two tires instead of four to put Mayfield into the lead on Lap 99 to every minor adjustment made by crew chief Kenny Francis, that night created a hope -- albeit a small one -- that maybe something special can happen this weekend.
"I just wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer," Mayfield said. "I was not going to take 'we're not getting in' for an answer. It was like we were in a zone all week. Then we did it. It was like a miracle."
There is a wishful tone in Mayfield's voice, one of a man who would trade everything else he owns for the opportunity to be in that position again.
"I miss it a lot and wish I was a part of it," Mayfield said. "Life goes on. You've got to take the cards you're dealt and do the best you can with it."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.