By Jerry Bonkowski
Jeremy Mayfield and I are both back, but for two very different reasons.
Mayfield was granted a temporary injunction by a federal court judge Wednesday, paving the way for his return to Sprint Cup series competition. Unfortunately for Mayfield, the injunction likely came too late for him to compete in Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
As a result, we likely won't see him back behind the wheel again until next Saturday's race at Chicagoland Speedway, if he can get his team together and qualify for the race.
As for me, most of the regular readers of this site know I've been in the homestretch of finishing my first book – on NASCAR, of course – over the last few weeks, which has kept me away from writing for this site more than I would have liked. I've tried to keep some semblance of continuity going with my daily blog for AutoRacingDaily.com, which I've been excerpting here and inviting readers to link to ARD for the rest of each day's entry.
I appreciate all the e-mails I've received from readers offering both support for my book and expressing patience and understanding that I can only write so many thousands of words in a day – and almost all of those have been for the book, which is going to be published early next year by a major publisher.
One reader's e-mail, in particular, stands out. He wrote to me earlier this week, saying, "Don't worry about your Web site, get the book done. We're not going anywhere, we'll be here when you get back."
That touched me greatly, just as I'm sure Mayfield was touched by the judge's unexpected and surprising ruling.
Now, the onus is on Mayfield to prove himself innocent, that he's still the legitimate and drug-free competitor he insists he is, and to earn back the trust and faith in him from those who may be a bit jaded or fearful that what NASCAR has alleged of Mayfield is true.
The onus is also on NASCAR now to make sure it got things right in the whole Mayfield affair, even if it means there may have to be some admission of overzealousness or good intention/bad execution of its new substance abuse policy.
While I still believe in Mayfield's innocence, I've also softened my stand that NASCAR, in essence, wanted to make Mayfield an example. Having talked with several drivers and NASCAR officials since Mayfield was suspended in early May, it's pretty clear to me that NASCAR is just trying to get things right – even though the way it went about doing so was nothing short of a public relations disaster for the sanctioning body.
Far too many fans felt NASCAR reveled in its tough talk and tough action, to the point where the impression it gave to many was that of a bully wanting its way, and it wasn't going to let anything get in that way. It wanted to prove its substance abuse policy worked, and even if it was someone other than Mayfield, the end result would still have been the same: guilty before being proven innocent.
Now, with the strength of the court behind him, Mayfield will return to racing, much to the delight of his fans, friends and family. But let's not forget that this is just a temporary victory; he'll still likely have to go through some type of trial – unless NASCAR decides to settle out of court, as it has done several times over the years, particularly in the recent sexual harassment and discrimination settlement with former official Mauricia Grant.
I still think NASCAR's substance abuse policy can be saved. It has good, strong roots, but the sanctioning body has to be more open and communicative, not only with drivers and team members, but especially its fans. It can't march in, slam down its fist and seemingly yell, "Guilty" or "You're Fired" and expect fans to totally believe its edict is 100 percent flawless and foolproof.
With every other major professional sport listing its banned substances, there is no rational explanation why NASCAR can't do the same, instead of claiming, in essence, that it'll know what's in violation and who is guilty, when it sees it.
If NASCAR wants to leave the list of illegal substances open-ended, as it has said, I counter by asking what's wrong with leaving it closed-ended, instead, while at the same time giving itself the option to add ANY additional substance to the list at ANY time. That's having your cake and eating it, too, and lessens making itself look foolish in the process.
Sometimes, stubbornness is not the way to solve a problem or situation. Rather, a more genteel manner and approach can go a long way towards showing NASCAR is a caring, understanding body and not just a dictatorial entity that is infallible and incapable of being wrong.
If I was NASCAR, I'd at least somewhat turn the other cheek, embrace Mayfield back into the fold at least temporarily, and then go back to proving or disproving his guilt but in a more gentlemanly fashion.
To that end, the time away from this site has allowed me to think and made me see the need to tone down my often controversial rhetoric a bit and give the sanctioning body more of a benefit of the doubt. That way, one of us is making a start to hopefully meeting the other more in the middle of the road.
I've heard from a number of peers, drivers and officials within the sport that certain members of the NASCAR hierarchy feel I'm "too negative" and that if I hate the sport so much, then I should leave it.
That's not it at all. I love this sport and everything about it. When I'm critical, it's because I want to right what I perceive as a wrong, to try and inject common sense into situations where NASCAR sometimes comes up lacking.
Hopefully, the sanctioning body will understand I have a job to do and criticism – just like plaudits, which I do far more often than being critical, anyway – is part of it. In turn, if the sanctioning body sees I'm trying to make a concerted effort to be more open-minded about understanding how and why it makes certain decisions, maybe we can make some serious progress forward and arrive at the same outcome we both seek: making the sport better.
I'm not waving the white flag; rather, I'm throwing a green-white-checker so that everyone has a chance at winning in the long run.
And no, I'm not drinking NASCAR's Kool Aid. Rather, to form a more peaceful coexistence, I'm willing to melt some of its ice.
Let's hope it works both ways.