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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - NASCAR has suspended driver Kurt Busch for an indefinite period of time, which means he will not be in Sunday's Daytona 500, pending an appeal.
"Given the serious nature of the findings and conclusions made by the Commissioner of the Family Court of the State of Delaware, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended Kurt Busch, effective immediately," NASCAR said in a statement. "He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice."
Busch will appeal the decision, but Regan Smith has been named his official replacement and will fill Busch's seat on Sunday.
"We are extremely disappointed that NASCAR has suspended Kurt Busch and we plan an immediate appeal," Busch's attorney Rusty Hardin said in a statement. "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."
The former champion and current driver for Stewart-Haas has spent the last six months embroiled in a dispute with his former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. The precipitating event was an incident at Dover, Del., last fall in which Busch allegedly choked Driscoll. During that Sept. 26 incident at Busch's motor home, Busch claimed he simply "cupped her head" and she struck her head by accident, while Driscoll claimed she was choked and thrown into a wall.
In the subsequent protective order hearing, Driscoll and Busch threw increasingly severe charges at one another, with Busch saying Driscoll claimed she was a trained assassin. In the end, the court sided with Driscoll, approving a protective order against Busch. Still unresolved are criminal charges against Busch; local police have completed their report but no charges against Busch have been filed.
Busch's attorney fought back on Thursday, seeking to reopen the protective order and charging that Driscoll had perjured herself. On Friday, Kent County commissioner David Jones released a report that indicated Busch's "actions on that occasion constituted conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening or harmful."
Jones' decision reads, in part:
The court is satisfied that the evidence presented at trial established that it is more likely than not that on September 26, 2014, Respondent committed an act of abuse against Petitioner by manually strangling Petitioner with his left hand on her throat while placing his right hand against her chin and face, causing her head to forcefully strike the interior wall of Respondent's motor home, thereby recklessly causing physical injury to Petitioner and recklessly placing Petitioner in reasonable apprehension of physical injury. The Court further finds that Respondent's actions on that occasion constituted conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening or harmful.
In granting Driscoll a protective order, Jones ordered Busch to remain a "practicable" distance from his ex-girlfriend and that he be evaluated “for mental health problems related to anger control and impulse control."
NASCAR had waited for further outside confirmation before taking action.
"We understand NASCAR’s position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision," Stewart Haas Racing said in a statement. "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."
Chevrolet has also suspended its relationship with Busch.
Domestic violence issues have surged to the forefront of sports in recent months, largely as a result of the NFL's inconsistent punishment of violators such as Ray Rice, and the last perception any league needs to have is that it doesn't take domestic violence seriously enough. The Friday release of the highly critical report left NASCAR with no real option but to levy some form of punishment on Busch.
Busch does have the right to appeal, and if he does so, NASCAR could institute an expedited appeal. In addition, Chevrolet has announced that it has indefinitely suspended its relationship with Busch.
This marks the third suspension for Busch, who's known for a hot temper both inside the car and out. He was suspended by Roush Fenway Racing in 2005 after an incident with police in Maricopa County (Ariz.), an incident that led to his firing from RFR, and again in 2012 after he threatened a reporter on pit road. He was also fired from Penske Racing following the 2011 season when, at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he unleashed on an ESPN reporter, a tirade that was caught on video.
Still, Busch managed to secure a ride in 2012 with Phoenix Row Racing, a small single-car team that pounced on the opportunity to hire a driver of Busch's caliber, one who'd won a championship in 2004.
Last year, he landed with Stewart Haas Racing, marking his return to one of NASCAR's power teams.
Now, his future in NASCAR is in doubt.
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