Two weeks after a Delaware judge issued a restraining order against Kurt Busch following allegations of domestic abuse towards his former girlfriend, prosecutors in that jurisdiction handed down what was ultimately the final criminal ruling. Citing insufficient evidence, prosecutors declined to file any criminal charges against Busch, effectively ending any chance of a conviction. In other words, there was simply not enough evidence to “meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt” that the events as Patricia Driscoll recounted them took place.
It doesn’t mean that nothing happened that night, but it does cast the events in a different light than the family court judge painted them just two weeks ago. The difference is that for the restraining order, the judge only had to weigh the two sides and decide which one was the most likely. There can be plenty of doubt in his mind; he only had to be 51 percent in favor of Driscoll’s story to issue the order. A criminal conviction, on the other hand, means convincing a jury of 12 people that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that if there is any doubt at all that the accused could have committed the crime in question, their verdict must be not guilty. Prosecutors felt that this case could not be proven beyond that reasonable doubt, and therefore decided not to pursue it further.
The ruling is goid news for Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing, of course, but it does make NASCAR look a little… um, hasty. NASCAR moved to suspend Busch indefinitely as soon as the judge issued his full findings in granting the restraining order, presuming him guilty of something if the judge sided with Driscoll. Busch now has to work through a NASCAR-devised program to be reinstated. The problem is, under the law of the land, he didn’t commit a crime. Busch was, in effect, suspended from doing his job because of the suspicion that he might have committed a crime.
That’s a bit of a PR nightmare, especially considering that Travis Kvapil, who pleaded guilty to essentially the same crime, was never punished by the sanctioning body. So now, there’s a guy who admitted in front of a judge that he committed an act of domestic violence and was allowed to continue on as though nothing happened. And there’s another guy who, despite not being convicted or even charged with a crime, is sitting at home until NASCAR decides he’s paid his penance. That’s just not right.
The best thing NASCAR could do is to reinstate Busch immediately, apologize to him, his team and his fans for jumping to conclusions and let everyone move on. Instead, though, the sanctioning body admits no mistakes, issuing only the following statement via press release:
“NASCAR is aware of the Delaware Department of Justice announcement today regarding driver Kurt Busch. As we disclosed Monday, he has accepted the terms and conditions of a reinstatement program and is actively participating in the program. Kurt Busch’s eligibility for reinstatement will continue to be governed by that program and the NASCAR Rule Book, though the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges certainly removes a significant impediment to his reinstatement.”
That could mean that NASCAR will speed up the process without admitting to being too quick to judgement, or it could still mean Busch will sit out for a while. NASCAR did not disclose what the reinstatement program entails or give a timetable. Fast-tracking Busch back to the track would probably be the second-best option, behind admitting they’re wrong.
But NASCAR isn’t the only hurdle Busch has to clear. Chevrolet also pulled support from the driver following the restraining order, and as a Chevy factory team, effectively backs Stewart-Haas Racing into a corner. Again, if Busch had been charged, tried and convicted, nobody would fault NASCAR or Chevrolet for their actions, but with that not being the case, it’s not so easy.
If Chevy isn’t going to come out and publicly admit they jumped the gun, the best thing for the manufacturer to do here is to quietly let the team know they will back the No. 41 and be done with it. And perhaps one of those two things will happen in the coming days as the situation sorts itself out.
In the end, NASCAR jumped the gun on Busch’s situation, and because of that, took a credibility hit. The sanctioning body takes another one in standing on their previous decision. Let’s hope that it’s a situation that never rears its ugly head again, but if it does, NASCAR should remember this case, take a deep breath, and let the justice system do its job. There’s plenty of time for suspensions and other penalties when that happens.
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