Kurt Busch was reinstated by NASCAR on Wednesday, will race this weekend at Phoenix and is eligible for the Chase.
“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,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president, said in a statement. “We therefore have decided to move him to indefinite probation and waive the Chase requirement. He has fully complied with our reinstatement program during his suspension and the health care expert who conducted his evaluation recommended his immediate return.
“We have made it very clear to Kurt Busch our expectations for him moving forward, which includes participation in a treatment program and full compliance with all judicial requirements as a result of his off-track behavior.”
Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Friday, Feb. 20, after the release of a decision following the grant of a protection order against his ex-girlfriend. In the decision, a Delaware county commissioner wrote it was more likely than not that Busch committed an act of domestic abuse against Patricia Driscoll on Friday, Sept. 26.
However, the Delaware attorney general announced last week that Busch wouldn't face criminal charges, saying there was insufficient evidence.
Following his reinstatement, Busch's team Stewart Haas Racing announced he will be in the No. 41 car for this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"We appreciate the steps Kurt Busch has made while following NASCAR's process for reinstatement," SHR executive vice president Joe Custer said in a statement. "He has taken this path seriously, which allowed him to return to our race team. With his reinstatement and the conclusion by the Delaware Attorney General to not file charges, our focus is on the future."
Busch's suspension covered three races. Drivers are required to attempt to qualify for each NASCAR race to be eligible for the Chase. However, NASCAR holds the right to grant a waiver for drivers to be eligible for the Chase and has previously done so with Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart. This is the first time NASCAR has used the waiver with a suspension and possibly creates a curious precedent of allowing drivers to violate NASCAR's rules enough for a suspension while still granting them postseason eligibility.
"Well, I understand why NASCAR needed to take the action that it did," Busch said in a teleconference Thursday afternoon. "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, and I had the support from Gene Haas and everybody at SHR, and that's where my focus has been. It's been on the racing side of it, and I never lost that confidence and that drive, and so it's a humbling experience, but it's made me more focused and determined."
Chase eligibility for Busch doesn't seem like that much of a stretch either, provided he wins a race. To make the Chase, a driver must win a race and be in the top 30 in points or have enough points to fill the remaining Chase positions assuming there aren't 16 drivers with wins.
While Busch won't likely be able to accomplish the latter requirement, a win would do a lot to get him in the Chase. Last year's 30th-place driver, David Gilliland, averaged less than 16 points per race. On that standard, Busch would need to average a 25th-place finish to get in to the top 30 of the points standings by Richmond in September.
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