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.
With that looking like a long shot and Mayfield yet to arrive at Daytona, NASCAR questioned the need for the injunction.
'Jeremy and his legal team asked for a temporary injunction for emergency relief because it was necessary apparently to come compete here in Daytona,' NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. 'Apparently, he's not here and it appears as if he's not going to compete this weekend, which would raise some questions on how much of an emergency it really was.'
As the cars fired their engines Thursday afternoon 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 Court Judge Graham Mullen issued a temporary injunction based on the argument that NASCAR's testing system is flawed.
Although Mayfield said after the ruling he intended to travel to Daytona, he wasn't sure he'd be able to compete because of the short turnaround.
He's admittedly cash-strapped, revealing in an affidavit last week that since his suspension on May 9 he's 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 allegedly 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 Tommy 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 Southeastern-based discount store Fred's, which signed on to sponsor the car this weekend, did not want to associate itself with Mayfield.
'They probably would choose not to be involved at this particular time,' said Gunselman, who added he had not had any direct conversations with Mayfield about replacing Mike Wallace in the car.
'For being a small, startup team that's struggled, I have to consider every potential scenario for our race team. Everybody's feelings are kind of sensitive at the moment, and I'd have to be very aware of everything involved.'
Gunselman, who does not have a sponsor lined up for next week in Chicago, said he'd be willing to work with Mayfield going forward.
'I've been involved in NASCAR for a long time, and 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 whether Mayfield will be able to move past the suspension and the ongoing lawsuits. Many drivers said they believed Mayfield will blend right in when he does return, 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 difficult challenge.
'He didn't have a job prior to this,' Jeff Burton said. 'I don't think (team owners) Rick Hendrick or Richard Childress were going to call him, anyway. I'm not being ugly; it's just the truth. Without a doubt, there's now an asterisk next to his name, and that's going to make it a whole lot harder.'