Kurt Busch case a product of the post-Ray Rice world in sports

Yahoo Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kurt Busch has never been arrested for allegedly assaulting his one-time girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, on Sept. 26, 2014, inside his motorhome at Dover International Speedway.

Kurt Busch has never been charged with that crime. Kurt Busch has never been convicted of that crime. Kurt Busch never settled the case, in part, because there is no case to settle. There have been no criminal or civil charges filed against him.

Kurt Busch leaves his appeal hearing at NASCAR headquarters. (USAT)
Kurt Busch leaves his appeal hearing at NASCAR headquarters. (USAT)

What did happen was a commissioner of a family court in Delaware issued an order of protection on Monday to keep Busch away from Driscoll, followed by an explanation of the decision on Friday.

That led to NASCAR suspending the driver immediately and indefinitely, including for Sunday's Daytona 500. Busch appealed twice and lost twice in a matter of six hours on Saturday. The 36-year-old's career, which features 25 Sprint Cup victories and one championship, might be done.

The decision by commissioner David Jones came after an expansive hearing process in which the commissioner determined Driscoll's story (that Busch strangled her inside his motorhome) was more believable than Busch's story (that he simply cupped her head and asked her to leave) in part because of photos of injuries on her neck, in part because Driscoll presented testimony in a more believable way (in the commissioner's determination) than Busch and in part because Busch's explanation was deemed "simply implausible."

Fair enough. A restraining order should always err on the side of caution, and reading Jones' extensive ruling, it's a reasonable conclusion. Busch certainly could've done it and keeping these two apart is definitely a good idea.

Still, as Busch kept showing up at NASCAR headquarters on Saturday, as the roar of race cars echoed from the Daytona International Speedway across the street, it was also reasonable to keep repeating that he's never been arrested, charged, found actually guilty or anything else in this case.

A restraining order is a restraining order, understandably easy to obtain – many are granted within a single day and need only minimal evidence. And while NASCAR believes it is fully within its rights to suspend Busch, this feels like a deal that, for better or worse, never would have occurred even one year ago.

"Just because the NFL dropped the ball so badly on Ray Rice, then Kurt Busch is going to be made an example?" said Gil Wagner, 37, a Busch fan from West Chicago, Ill., who sat outside NASCAR headquarters holding a sign of support. (The driver never saw it when he exited from a different door.)

"Kurt Busch is innocent until proven guilty," Wagner said. "I believe NASCAR is overstepping their bounds. I'm not for domestic violence at all but he hasn't been proven guilty. They make up the rules as they go along."

Maybe not make them up, but certainly apply them as they see fit. After all, NASCAR announced Busch's suspension inside the Daytona media center, while right outside the green flag was about to drop on a truck series race which featured Travis Kvapil, who in January 2014 pleaded guilty after being arrested for domestic assault.

Kvapil received probation from the court, but never a suspension from NASCAR. So guilty gets nothing, but not getting charged earns an indefinite suspension?

NASCAR fans hold up signs supporting Kurt Busch during his appeals hearing. (USAT)
NASCAR fans hold up signs supporting Kurt Busch during his appeals hearing. (USAT)

That was pre-Ray Rice.

Blaming everything on Roger Goodell can get a little old, but this is clearly a new era in sports and a league such as NASCAR that is so dependent on corporate sponsorship appears to be employing a suspend-first-ask-questions-later policy.

Perception and appearance matter and it's not a good look to have a possibly domestic abuser in your biggest race or have someone scribble "Ray Rice" on a window looking into Busch's garage stall here this week.

The Rice case is completely different though. The ex-Baltimore running back was arrested at the time. There was video of him punching his girlfriend in the face in a casino elevator. He eventually reached a deal with a local prosecutor.

Kurt Busch had none of these opportunities, just a chance to fight the restraining order, not because, his defense team stated, he wanted anything to do with his ex-girlfriend but because of the fear that his career would be ruined.

They were right on that one.

"I hate Kurt Busch [as a driver]," said NASCAR fan Teri Belgio of Naperville, Ill., who was also outside the hearing, "but he's gotten a raw deal here."

The Busch supporters – fans or otherwise – are not in favor of domestic violence. No one is. Everyone wants it eradicated. That isn't the argument. If Busch is guilty, make him pay criminally and every other way.

What if he isn't though?

NASCAR previously said it would wait for a criminal charge to be made before making a determination.

"If charges are filed, that will change our equation, and we will look at that," NASCAR chariman Brian France said last November. "We'll stay the course, let the investigation be completed, and then we'll react."

Then suddenly it went with the family court decision, not any criminal charge? Did the fact that Driscoll made a major media push this week, where she did extensive interviews with all sorts of national outlets, play a role here?

The family court process was pretty good, with witnesses called and evidence submitted, but it also allows for a very low bar of relevance.

Jones, for instance, specifically cited a magazine story that noted Busch's "notorious" on-track "temper" as evidence that he is capable of assaulting Driscoll.

"In their 2014 NASCAR Driver profile, Athlon sports described [Busch] as ‘incredibly volatile' and observed he had a tendency to ‘lose it' on the race radio with his crew chief," Jones wrote in his decision.

Kurt Busch may be 100-percent guilty and may soon be charged and convicted of the crime, but citing Athlon Magazine as a character witness (that can't even be cross-examined) and mentioning the highly-common act of a driver screaming at his crew chief during a race suggests this was less than the ideal process.

NASCAR didn't care. Not any of them three times. Even if no criminal charges are filed, the suspension stands.

"We have significant and strong evidence that contradicts the Commissioner's conclusions," Busch's attorney Rusty Hardin said Saturday, after Busch lost his first appeal. "In the end, we are confident that Kurt will be vindicated and he will be back racing. Until then we will continue to fight on his behalf by ensuring that the entire truth is known."

What that truth is remains to be seen. He might be guilty as hell. What is no longer in question is how sports organizations now aren't waiting to pull the trigger – after years of being too lax.

Cheer it or complain about it, after Ray Rice and Roger Goodell, that's just how it's going to be.


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