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Kurt Busch Comes To A Head: How Much Longer Can NASCAR Delay The Inevitable?

Editor’s Note: Tom Bowles’ writing for Frontstretch moves to Tuesday and Wednesdays this season. Check out Did You Notice? tomorrow and every Wednesday along with his Monday column for Athlon Sports.

When processing the latest twist in the Kurt Busch case, a Delaware judge’s decision released Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about Busch’s teammate Tony Stewart. Six months ago, Stewart was involved in an on-track sprint car accident that claimed the life of fellow driver Kevin Ward, Jr., tragically run over under circumstances we’ll never fully understand. The three-time Cup champion, one of the most recognizable figures in racing, was immediately put under a cloud of scrutiny, facing potential manslaughter charges and a civil suit threatened by the Ward family. A heartbroken Stewart voluntarily took three weeks off; the national media went hogwild, with major outlets from ABC’s Good Morning America to NBC’s Nightly News painting the driver as an on-track terror with an anger problem. As evidence was sent to the grand jury, building speculation about an indictment people within the sport waited for NASCAR to take charge, making their stance on the situation clear while helping deflate a PR nightmare for the sport.

(Photo: CIA Stock Photography)
Kurt Busch’s NASCAR future is in question after a protective order released Monday by a Delaware court claimed he’d committed an act of domestic violence. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Well, the sanctioning body built a strategy alright; turns out they were consulting with Switzerland. A quick look back at the Stewart case reveals NASCAR’s typical modus operandi when public opinion is split on a crisis: do nothing, say as little as possible and let everyone else make decisions for them. In the end, it was a grand jury that let them off the hook, vindicating Stewart and in the process making it easy for NASCAR to look like a hero for not jumping to conclusions.

I bring up Stewart because the way the sport has acted in the Kurt Busch case appears remarkably similar. CEO Brian France, throughout the process has danced around so many bullets on the issue you’d think he’s a professional ballerina. (Detractors can only hope he changes careers.) France, as recently as Sunday’s national interview on FOX television has said he “wants the justice system to play out” before acting on the Busch case. Understanding domestic violence is a hot-button issue, the sport was comfortable letting others conclude their investigation instead of the sport conducting their own.

Sound familiar?

In NASCAR’s defense, it’s been a difficult case to navigate, filled with conflicting information, embarrassing YouTube videos and wild claims of secret government missions, assassins and psychological manipulation. It would be so easy if we were limited to one simple set of facts, whether or not a poor woman had her head slammed against the wall in a brutal act of violence. Instead, the Kurt Busch versus Patricia Driscoll breakup, played out in public through Delaware’s Family Court, has been so wildly unpredictable, filled with such outlandish claims you thought you were reading a screenplay instead of real life. Driscoll claimed Busch had alcohol and anger management problems; Busch claimed she was an assassin who disappeared for days at a time to work in secret for the U.S. Government. It was an ugly end to a three-plus year relationship, a case that makes you feel bad for a young boy caught in the middle of this madness whose only “crime” is that he was witness to these events as Patricia Driscoll’s impressionable young son.

When a soap opera plays out in public view, it’s hard for NASCAR to cast judgment. Sometimes, playing neutral can even be the right call. But after Monday’s decision, in which Delaware judge David Jones granted a protective order for Driscoll against Busch, the tables are turning. The sport has itself a serious problem; playing Switzerland, you would think is no longer on the list of multiple choice options.

In this decision, available for public view, Jones pulled no punches against Busch. The order is confirmation, at least in this judge’s eyes, that Busch has “committed an act or repeated acts of domestic violence” against Driscoll. It orders Busch to be evaluated for mental health problems related to “anger and impulse control.” That’s aside from the one-year protection issued for Driscoll, a list of restrictions that will keep Busch 100 yards away at all times except in circumstances where NASCAR-related employment for both would force them to be in the same room. Even then, Busch is not allowed to contact Driscoll in any way.

In response, Stewart-Haas co-owner Gene Haas remained defiant, refusing to pull Busch from the car while a public statement by the company claimed they’d await the attorney general’s decision on whether to file charges. It’s a decision NASCAR appears on board with, releasing a similar statement. “[The sport] is aware of the court order issued today,” they said. “We now await the full findings of the Commissioner and any actions by the Attorney General of Delaware related to the allegations against Busch. As we stated earlier, NASCAR fully recognizes the serious nature of this specific situation and the broader issue of domestic violence. We will continue to gather information and monitor this situation very closely.”

Hmm. Well, looks like NASCAR is playing Switzerland after all. The only question under these circumstances is why. While the court of public opinion remains divided, the facts provided by a judge are all you need. What will change between now and Friday, in a longer opinion that will negate the words “committed an act of domestic violence?” Seems like that’s already a matter of public record. What more does the sport need to make decisions? Have they not learned anything from a certain Ray Rice case last summer, a situation the NFL bungled with disastrous consequences?

Certainly, a Busch suspension won’t please everyone. There are plenty of people out there who believe he’s not guilty, who believe this whole situation is a comedy act. But they’re not the ones who get to make decisions. A Delaware Family Court judge just “closely monitored” the situation and came up with the only opinion that matters, considering it’s legally binding: Busch is guilty of something.

That means NASCAR’s has to show its hand. Now. No more “information gathering.” Time for Mr. France to do some “decision making,” especially with Busch scheduled to race in the Duels Thursday night. Otherwise, others will make decisions for them, in the same ugly way the Tony Stewart story spun out of control in the national media. It’s a black eye NASCAR doesn’t need to start 2015; they’re in position to stop it, right here and right now. That’s what a national sport, with a strong commissioner in control of his constituents would do.

There’s still time. But I’m not optimistic.

 

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kb

Wow! I am no fan of Kurt, but the “court of fairness” never is stacked in favor of the men. It is very easy the way the system is set up to go against the opposite sex. Everything (since I first hear of this women) has been odd, and the whole filing etc. didn’t have a ring of truth. I hope that the truth will come out, for the sake of fairness and one not using the courts as a tool for retribution as it so often is. The first thing that defies common sense is he told her goodbye and yet the this “restraining order” comes about? They were not married, he moved on told her to leave. The whole thing is playing out like a lover scorned and is costing one person a lot. It just seems weird, and Nascar IMO is doing the right thing so far.

russ

The death of a thousand cuts comes to mind here. Times have changed, and its no longer easy for the companies like Nacar/ISC to pull up the drawbridge and out wait the peasants.
Nascar will once again simply do nothing and hope that it will all go way. And in all likelihood it will. But as it goes it will take a few more potential fans with it. Its just one more tiny cut in a series of self inflicted wounds that the sport has suffered. And that cant be changed by some PR spin.

Tim S.

We got several of these columns after the Kevin Ward incident, with writers of all persuasions lusting for the suspension so they could instantly upload their long penned “fallen/troubled superstar” feature story and wait for Inside Edition or TMZ to come calling. Only this time, with the no-contact order, we get the jumping up and down and the finger-pointing, saying, “see? See? Court order! Court order! Guilty guilty guilty suspend suspend suspend!” Only problem is, at least where I work, domestic violence orders are not criminal defendant records. And, for now, Busch has not been arrested or even charged with anything. So the dramatic feature is going to have to wait.

Ken Smith

Some great comments so far. Mr. Bowles truly sounds like a “Kurt Hater.” My opinion of the court order – why the hell would Kurt want to be near her anyway?

Richie

NASCAR is not the NFL. Kurt Busch is not as well-known as Ray Rice. There’s no video. The national outrage machine is not going to fire on all cylinders over this. For once, I think NASCAR is doing the right thing. KB has not been charged with or convicted of anything. Unless and until he is, the man is innocent and deserves to earn his living as he sees fit. If NASCAR tales early action to suspend or punish KB, and the legal system doesn’t bring any action, that is not fair to KB and puts NASCAR in a bad spot. Best for NASCAR to handle it the way they are. If something legal sticks, drop the hammer. Otherwise… let the man do his job.

Glen H.

A protective order does not, no matter how much Mr. Bowles wishes it, prove guilt or even criminal activity. All it says it that something might have happened and that KB needs to stay away from her. Until Busch is actually indicted or arrested for a crime, I think that NASCAR is doing the right thing.

Here’s a question that writers need to ask themselves before convicting KB in their articles: if Busch committed a crime, why hasn’t he been arrested or charged, especially after all this time?

If there was any evidence of a crime, why hasn’t the DA gone to a grand jury and gotten an indictment by now? Since the DA hasn’t, it’s looking like there might not be anything to charge KB with.

Upstate24fan

I think NASCAR is taking the right approach. I am surprised that Driscoll got the “order of protection”, but that decision and the standard of proof required is far less than a conviction on a criminal charge. The judge in this case could be just taking a “better safe than sorry approach”. I’ve tried to keep an open mind on this issue, but from all the leaked testimony/evidence to this point, I just don’t believe Patricia Driscoll. She comes off in my opinion as a very manipulative person. A minor defense contractor with delusions of grandeur. I see the push for this order of protection as a way to humiliate Kurt, and mess with him at the track. I bet she makes a point of attending as many races as possible with her charity to screw with Kurt. If criminal charges are filed, then it is a different story and they should pull him from the car. That being said, Kurt dated her, appeared to latch on to her son and veterans’ charity to rehab his image, got a top ride again, and then dumped her like a sack of potatoes. He should have know she could be volatile, though no one deserves false charges put on them.

Fed Up

It seems that NA$CAR may be a hypocritical if they address the domestic violence issue as they have failed to
do anything regarding the workplace violence they seem to condone. Matt putting Brad in a headlock recently comes to mind. Also I still can’t forget Edwards taking out Brad on the track several years ago. Maybe NA$CAR drivers should be subject to a restraining order.

Keith

I’m no fan of Kurt Busch but since there is a restraining order against him Mrs. Driscoll should be banned from all Nascar races until Kurt Busch has been either convicted or the order lapses. This is his place of employment not hers.

Robert Eastman

The fact that Ms. Driscoll took 6 weeks to file charges tells me she is less than honest. It seems she needed enough “healing time” so the fact that “no physical marks” were apparent (as testified to by 2 credible witnesses under oath in court) would not be able to be verified by law enforcement. The fact that she used the excuse that she was going through a divorce and didn’t want the incident with Kurt to have any influence on that case tells me that she must have been on “very shaky ground” in that situation.

I’m not a Kurt Busch fan but it seems like he is “getting destroyed” by a scorned lady! (“Hell hath no fury like a women scorned!”) Though I believe Patricia to be a liar, I think that the idea that she is an assassin is possibly credible. She’s in a business that’s a perfect cover for compensation for “these types of deeds.” Someone has to do it and who better than a beautiful blonde to stab some ego-maniac criminal in the back!

Kurt Busch is Guilty… of being an idiot… especially if he really believes she is a “Hit-woman.” Why wouldn’t he “manipulate the circumstances” so she would be motivated to “dump him” and allow her to save face? Don’t be surprised if he experiences a mysterious departure.

Robin1

We all know that Busch has a long history of anger management issues. But since NASCAR is the poster child for the “Good old boys” way of thinking, I’m not surprised at their lack of action against him.

Tommy T.

Why would anyone think NASCAR is capable of competently acting as a judge and jury in criminal/civil legal matters? They can’t capably get their cars qualified for their biggest race of the year…and that’s their field of expertise. Let our law enforcement and justice system do their job and sports entities do theirs. Same thing for the NBA, NFL and MLB. If they are not able to compete do to their legal entanglements, so be it. Otherwise, leave it alone.

AUGI34

HEY FOLKS,

NEVER LET THE FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY.SO WHAT ARE THE FACTS AND WHAT IS BEING DONE TO INDEED PROVE BEYOND ANY DOUBT THAT THEY ARE THE TRUE FACTS? FROM WHAT I HAVE READ SO FAR IT SEEMS LIKE A DAMN ” JUDGE JUDY” SHOW.PLEASE ADVISE.

THANK YOU,
AUGI

Bill B

Hmmm. Looks like Bowles called it. Whether you agree or not, Busch is suspended.

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