NASCAR suspends Kurt Busch indefinitely
February 20, 2015, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch indefinitely Friday in the wake of a Delaware family court's findings that "by a preponderance of the evidence" the 36-year-old driver "committed an act of domestic violence" against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll on Sept. 24, 2014.
NASCAR announced that Busch's punishment was for a behavioral penalty and "actions detrimental to stock car racing following the release today of a supplemental disposition setting forth the findings and conclusions that formed the basis for the Family Court of the State of Delaware's decision on Monday to issue an Order of Protection from Abuse against him."
The decision leaves the former Sprint Cup Series champion on the sidelines for stock-car racing's most prestigious race, Sunday's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Regan Smith was named as Busch's replacement for the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet, which was scheduled to start 24th in Sunday's Great American Race but will drop to the rear of the field because of the driver change.
Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, made a statement 40 minutes after the decision was announced, taking no questions from the media. He said that Busch has the right to appeal and that the process would be expedited. Late Friday evening, a NASCAR spokesperson confirmed that Busch would contest the ruling.
The appeal hearing is set for Saturday at noon ET.
"NASCAR has made it very clear to our entire membership and the broader industry that any actions of abuse will not be tolerated in the industry," O'Donnell said. "I want to make it clear that any inference that there is a culture or tolerance for this type of behavior is patently false."
Rusty Hardin, Busch's lead attorney, said that the driver's legal team plans to make an "immediate appeal" of NASCAR's decision. According to a NASCAR spokesperson, the appeal will take place on Saturday; a three-person panel would hear the appeal from Busch, who cannot have legal representation at such a hearing.
"We assure everyone, including NASCAR, that this action against Mr. Busch will turn out to be a travesty of justice, apparent to all, as this story continues to unfold," Hardin said in a statement, adding, "We ask everyone's patience as this case continues in the court of law and are confident that when the truth is known Mr. Busch will be fully vindicated and back in the driver's seat."
Stewart-Haas said in a release that Smith, who will have a Saturday news conference at 9:45 a.m. ET (Watch live on NASCAR.com), will remain in the No. 41 Chevy regardless of the outcome of any appeal. Smith, last year's runner-up in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, was also a Stewart-Haas sub last season for team co-owner Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International after Stewart was involved in a fatal sprint car incident at a nearby dirt track the night before the Sprint Cup event.
Chevrolet also announced Friday evening that the automaker has cut its ties to Busch. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of Motorsports and Performance Vehicles, said that the manufacturer "has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely. We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary."
NASCAR added in its penalty release that Busch "will not be allowed to race or participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice.
"Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are fully aware of our position and why this decision was made. We will continue to respect the process and the timetable of the authorities involved."
NASCAR's ruling comes on the heels of conclusions, released Friday, from Kent County (Delaware) Commissioner David Jones that found Driscoll's version of what happened inside Busch's motorcoach that evening at Dover International Speedway was more believable than Busch's, saying that his "version of the events is implausible, does not make sense and is unlikely to be true given the totality of the other evidence admitted at trial."
According to the civil disposition report, Jones said he believed Busch committed an act of abuse against Driscoll "by manually strangling her by placing his left hand on her throat, while placing his right hand on her chin and face and smashing her head into the wall of his motor home, thereby recklessly placing (Driscoll) in reasonable fear of physical injury."
Jones granted Driscoll a protective order Monday. Busch requested that the case be re-opened, but no ruling has been made. The terms of Jones' conclusion also require Busch "to be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional" and to complete any prescribed plan of treatment.
The Dover (Delaware) Police Department completed its investigation of the alleged assault on Jan. 6, putting the case in the hands of the county's attorney general's office, which has not decided whether or not Busch will face criminal charges.
Driscoll lauded NASCAR's decision to take action.
"For victims of domestic violence there are no victories,' " Driscoll said in a statement. "My only hope is that the pain and trauma I suffered through this process will help other victims find their voice. … Today NASCAR took an important step and deserves to be commended. The next steps are to develop a thorough process and policies that reinforce the organization’s position it took today: Domestic violence will not be tolerated in NASCAR."
Friday's announcement marked the third time that Busch -- a 25-time winner and the 2004 champion in NASCAR's top division -- has been forced to miss races in the Sprint Cup Series for disciplinary reasons.
In 2005, Roush Fenway Racing severed ties to Busch with two races left in the season after he was cited for reckless driving and became belligerent with Maricopa County (Arizona) sheriff's deputies during a traffic stop near Phoenix International Raceway, according to police reports. In 2012, NASCAR suspended Busch for one race for "verbal abuse of a media member" during a post-race interview at Dover.
Before Friday's decision, both Stewart-Haas Racing and NASCAR had declined to discipline Busch, with each opting to let the legal process play out. When news of the investigation broke last November while the series was racing at Phoenix, Busch declined comment and SHR spokespersons referred reporters to Busch's attorney, Rusty Hardin.
Team co-owner Gene Haas said in the Phoenix garage that he would not remove Busch as driver of the No. 41 Chevy "until someone else pulls him out." Last Thursday during NASCAR Media Day, Stewart -- a three-time champion and the team's other co-owner -- said the organization had a contingency plan in place should the legal process have an unfavorable outcome.
Friday evening, Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer said in a statement provided by the team that "we understand NASCAR's position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision. We are in the midst of finalizing our plans for the Daytona 500 and we will announce those details as soon as we're ready."
In offseason interviews, Busch said he had no timetable for how long the legal process would take. Last January at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour, Busch maintained that his testimony was accurate.
"It's a matter of knowing that the truth has been told and we'll see how things unfold," Busch said Jan. 27. "The process, we have to wait on what their decision's going to be."
NASCAR chairman Brian France said during his season-ending "State of the Sport" address last November that the sanctioning body would react once concrete details in the legal process were complete.
"What's not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awareness on domestic abuse and violence, and so you can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that's not going to be tolerated," France said before the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "The past of how any league might have handled some of this is one thing. It's pretty clear when you see what's happening around the country and in some of the other leagues that our policy will reflect the significance and importance that it should."