Kurt Busch could have cried foul. He could have ripped NASCAR for suspending him for what amounted to the season’s first three races, including the sport’s Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, and his hometown race at Las Vegas last weekend.
NASCAR did so once a Delaware family court commissioner concluded that more likely than not Busch “committed an act of domestic violence” against his ex-girlfriend, a decision announced days before the Daytona 500.
It put NASCAR in a tough spot, with its zero tolerance policy toward domestic violence, and it made the best decision it could at that point by suspending Busch indefinitely.
But the Delaware attorney general’s office announced last week that it wouldn’t pursue criminal charges against Busch, saying it wouldn’t be able to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
So Busch could have been justifiably peeved by what now appears to be a premature decision by NASCAR to suspend him. He could have gone off, because, as he said, “it’s been torture sitting out of the car.”
But he didn’t in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, the day NASCAR announced Busch would be reinstated and eligible to drive in this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway and contend for the Chase championship, waiving a rule that states a driver must compete in every race to be eligible.
“I understand why NASCAR needed to take the action that it did,” said Busch, who remains on indefinite probation by NASCAR. “This is a very serious issue. I mean, the way that NASCAR reacted, it was different than what we had been told all along. They were more focused on the criminal side, as were we, but the commissioner’s ruling was not necessarily what was the important factor here.
“The important factor is that what I was accused of was a complete fabrication, and I never wavered through this whole process because of the confidence in the truth. … I never lost that confidence and that drive, and so it’s a humbling experience, but it’s made me more focused and determined.”
That’s a good thing for Busch, as he continues to chase a championship after his first — and only — one came in 2004. And he now has the peace of mind to drive without this incident hanging over his head.
NASCAR and Chevrolet each issued statements on behalf of Busch.
“As we stated last week, the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges removed a significant impediment to Kurt Busch’s return to full status as a NASCAR member,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “He has fully complied with our reinstatement program during his suspension and the health-care expert who conducted his evaluation recommended his immediate return.”
Chevrolet suspended its personal services agreement with Busch at the time of the suspension, but also reinstated it Wednesday.
Busch hopes this marks the end of what has been a difficult period for him. Not only was he trying to clear his name of any wrongdoing in the domestic violence case, he also battled the reputation he had built up being known by racing fans as “The Outlaw” for his driving style and combative nature with reporters at times.
“My reputation has always been what I’ve done behind the wheel, and it’s moments that I hope to battle and put out on the track like I did with Ricky Craven in the closest finish in the history of NASCAR [at Darlington in 2003],” Busch said. “My reputation will iron itself out in whichever way that it is, but my focus is the race car.
“It’s unfortunate that my personal life crossed over and affected my business life, but I can’t wait to get to the track, to see my team, to shake their hands and say thanks for the support, and to go out there and make my first lap this weekend.”
Through this entire process, Busch has taken away some positives and fully understands just how valuable his opportunity is every weekend on the track. After all, it was almost taken away from him.
“Being in that race car is a privilege, and it’s a feeling that you can’t describe when you go out there for practice each and every weekend,” Busch said. “You drive down into the corner, the car sticks, you stand on the gas, and you drive out of the corner, it’s an experience that not a lot of people get to do, and I get a chance to race against the best in the world in NASCAR.
“My focus is to be humble through this whole process but let actions speak louder than words.”
Gordon in town
Jeff Gordon is in town Thursday as part of a promotion leading up to the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11.
He will conduct a Q&A session with fans between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. at Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. The event is free.
6 Cup wins at Phoenix International Raceway by Kevin Harvick, the most in the track’s history.
Quote of the week
“Phoenix has always been one of my favorite racetracks. It’s special to me — I like going out there to the desert. I like the way the track is laid out, and the challenges that it poses.” — Carl Edwards on PIR