Thursday morning, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn declined to bring criminal charges against Kurt Busch in the case involving ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, citing “the admissible evidence and available witnesses would likely be insufficient to meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Busch committed a crime during the Sept. 26 incident.” The ruling ends an investigation that began in early November when Driscoll filed for a protective order with the Kent County Family Court in Delaware, alleging that Busch had grabbed her by the throat and slammed her head against the bedroom wall of his motor home during a race weekend in Dover.
But as far as NASCAR is concerned, this case is far from over. The protective order was issued for Driscoll late last month, and a few days later, the sanctioning body placed Busch on an indefinite suspension following the release of detailed findings by the family court. And since that suspension was handed down just days before the season opening Daytona 500, many have weighed in on their thoughts about whether or not NASCAR acted too soon.
Simply put, NASCAR was put between a rock and a hard place. Had the sanctioning body continued its “wait-and see” stance following the issuance of the protective order, accusations that the sport condoned domestic violence would have run rampant, but instead, the indefinite suspension was met with outrage from fans who vowed to boycott all events until Busch’s reinstatement.
Fast forward to the attorney general’s decision, and many of those same people are now taking the stance that Busch should be immediately reinstated and apologized to. But it’s really not that simple. Though the family court only needed to believe Driscoll’s claims were more plausible than Busch’s defense – and that leaves quite a bit to question – there’s still the matter of the protective order that was issued.
On Monday, NASCAR announced Busch had agreed to the sanctioning body’s guidelines for potential reinstatement without specifying what would be required or giving a timeline for his return. Thursday afternoon, NASCAR reiterated that little had changed in regards to Busch’s suspension. He will still be required to follow the guidelines he agreed to, though the statement issued by the sanctioning body did say “the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges certainly removes a significant impediment to his reinstatement.”
Consider for a moment that according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “one in four women (24.3 percent) and one in seven men (13.8 percent) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime” and “nearly eight million days of paid work each year is lost due to domestic violence issues – the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.”
Now, before you go sending me a bunch of hate mail, I am in no way saying that Driscoll’s claims against Busch are true… or false. In fact, at this point, it really doesn’t matter as the family court and the attorney general’s office have both made rulings related to the case. Instead, it’s public perception that, whether you like it or not, really matters in this case, and NASCAR had no choice in the matter. In fact, David Higdon, vice president of integrated communications, defended the suspension during an interview on The Morning Drive on SiriusXM Radio Friday morning.
When you have a legitimate court in Delaware making a statement like they did, I think it would have been ridiculous for us to not act in that case,” he said. “We had been very patient over three months. We were being dragged through a lot of mud during that period, but we also felt that it was only fair to the driver that the facts come through. When they ultimately did come though this court in Delaware, we had to act.
But what about Travis Kvapil, who pleaded guilty last January to misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment and assault following an incident with his wife at their home on Oct. 8, 2013? Though he was almost immediately released from his ride with BK Racing, NASCAR never stepped in to take a stance on the situation and left it to the courts to decide. That’s the argument that has really had fans up in arms, especially since Kvapil raced in the Camping World Truck Series season opener on the same day NASCAR dropped the hammer on Busch.
Say what? So why was a driver who had pleaded guilty allowed to fly under the radar and continue racing, while Busch, who had only been accused – and not even charged – sitting on the sidelines? Higdon had that answer on The Morning Drive too.
“We learned a lot. I think (NASCAR chairman) Brian France has been very clear. If we had to do that over again, we probably would have done it differently,” Higdon said. “There’s no doubt that our knowledge and experience in this case with domestic violence and what we’ve seen in the world at large has had an impact. We had already begun down the path to if we have a situation related to domestic violence we would definitely react differently than with Travis Kvapil.’’
A lot has changed in the last 12 months since Kvapil pleaded guilty. Does the name Ray Rice mean anything to you? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, completely secluded from news of any kind, it should. After all, the video of Rice knocking out his fiance in an elevator at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., made its rounds pretty much everywhere.
Clearly, Busch’s situation is quite different in that there wasn’t any kind of video to support Driscoll’s allegations and he wasn’t accused of flat knocking her out either. However that Rice incident, along with those surrounding Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, to name a few, are why focus on domestic violence has been brought to the forefront.
With all of that said, Busch’s road to a return to NASCAR may not be as simple as just following the reinstatement requirements. Don’t forget that Chevrolet took its own stance after Busch’s suspension by cutting ties with him indefinitely. Thursday night, the manufacturer stated, “Our relationship with Kurt Busch remains unchanged. He remains suspended, and we will continue to monitor all aspects of this situation.” So, the potential scenario remains where Busch is allowed to return to NASCAR but Chevy still won’t have anything to do with him. Then what?
I can’t really say I have the answer to that question. With a history of temper and anger management problems throughout his career, Busch isn’t exactly a hot commodity that teams are scrambling to sign, and he’s already burned bridges with Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske previously. It remains to be seen whether Chevy will change its stance when/if NASCAR reinstates Busch, though my thought process is that the use of indefinitely, instead of permanently, leaves the option on the table, but it’s certainly something that could impact his return.
The bottom line is that NASCAR had no choice but to suspend Busch and to uphold that suspension despite no criminal charges being pressed. While many think the sanctioning body should simply apologize to Busch, reinstate him immediately and allow him to be eligible for the Chase should he win a race, the only option is for the suspended driver to follow the guidelines he agreed to. In the end, only two people really know what happened inside Busch’s motorhome – Busch and Driscoll – and the two can’t seem to agree upon what actually occurred that night.
About the author
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.