For the first time in 15 years, a Sprint Cup Series race was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway without a Busch brother being part of the action. With Kyle Busch recovering from a broken leg sustained in Daytona and Kurt Busch fighting for reinstatement following his suspension, the only indication the two brothers were even a part of the sport were the photos of them in the infield media center.
Since news first broke this past November during the race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway that Kurt Busch was being accused of manhandling his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, many have had mixed emotions on whether he was being unjustly accused or if he had lost all sense of self-control.
Driscoll claimed Busch grabbed her around the neck and throat and slammed her into a wall – three times. Her choice of words and descriptive comments of the alleged abuse raised suspicions about the validity of her claims but regardless of her motives, any allegation of domestic violence should be taken seriously – even if Driscoll did wait six weeks before she made her claim to the authorities.
From the start, there’s been two sides to the story. Witnesses have repeatedly said Driscoll was going around telling them she was going to ruin Busch’s career and that he would pay. Did she mean financially or criminally? Since we are in Las Vegas this week, the smart money might be on both. If she was trying to extort him, as multiple witnesses have claimed in court testimony, he rebuffed her demands for financial remuneration and maybe that forced her to play the victim card. Perhaps she was forced to do so because she entered his motor coach illegally.
Whatever the truth, as NASCAR prepared for its biggest race of the year, Driscoll received a victory in the Delaware family court and in the NASCAR world when Busch was suspended indefinitely based on an opinion by Kent County (Del.) Family Court Commissioner David Jones. (Read the full decision here.) In that opinion, he admitted that he believed her emotional pleas for help. “Each time that Petitioner was called to recall the alleged incident in court,” he said. “Whether on direct or cross examination, she became visibly upset. Her throat muscles appeared to contract, as if she were re-experiencing the alleged strangulation. She trembled, cried, and sobbed to such an extent that her responses occasionally became difficult to understand. The Court perceived this emotion to be genuine and consistent with the response of domestic violence victims required to recollect and describe in detail the acts of abuse committed against them and for that reason, finds Petitioner’s testimony regarding the alleged assault to be credible.”
But Jones admitted that Driscoll lied, too. He claimed the “most troubling issue regarding (Driscoll’s) credibility…involves the allegation that (Driscoll) falsely testified” Kurt Busch had offered Motor Racing Outreach pastor Nick Terry “financial assistance in an effort to secure his testimony, which she characterized as an attempt to bribe Mr. Terry.” That didn’t happen, which concerned the court — just not enough to change their decision.
My take? Lying and crying paid off in Jones’ court and Driscoll made a huge impact on NASCAR when she lowered the neckline of her dress, turned on the tears and went channel hopping from Good Morning America to Fox and Friends, putting her sob story in front of millions of people. Jones’ decision and Driscoll’s media blitz forced NASCAR’s hand.
Less than 48 hours before the drop of the green flag in the 2015 Daytona 500, NASCAR pulled the trigger and suspended Busch for “Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing” – a behavioral penalty. Until then, the sanctioning body had watched, waited, evaluated and investigated. Now, it had to act. The actions were deliberate and quick and in some twisted way, justified. Considering the overall climate when it comes to domestic violence, there was too much at stake for NASCAR not to do something.
It was a devastating blow to Busch, his team and the thousands of fans who cheer him on each week. For them, let’s face it: it sucked and it still does. NASCAR was put in a difficult situation that is only compounded by multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, sanctioning agreements, television contracts and any number of things we probably don’t even know exist.
But every cloud has a silver lining and as the NASCAR circus rolled into Las Vegas, the Delaware Department of Justice ruled conclusively that Driscoll’s claims of abuse could not be proven. There was not enough evidence to even charge Busch with a crime – much less obtain a conviction – so the case was dismissed. Kurt Busch was vindicated. There was no “getting off” on a technicality or a behind-the-scenes plea bargain agreement. Busch was cleared regardless of Jones’ personal opinion, which is being appealed by Busch’s legal team. In fact, since the opinion was released, more witnesses have come forward and provided sworn statements that Driscoll was never injured and her claims were those of a scorned ex-lover.
By no means is anyone making light of domestic violence. It is a heinous and cowardly act that should be taken very seriously when an allegation is made, which is exactly what happened in this case. However, when someone is cleared of wrongdoing they should be able to get their life back.
Yes, Kurt Busch has a temper. He’s proven it multiple times, but in reviewing why the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion has blown a gasket in the past, it has almost always involved his performance on the track and not off it — that Maricopa County speeding ticket notwithstanding.
So, where does that leave NASCAR as the series heads back to Phoenix International Raceway? Honestly, in a much better position to reinstate Busch. The lack of evidence in the criminal case should now help NASCAR justify a decision to put Busch back in a racecar. It should also not be lost that Busch – immediately following his suspension – agreed to NASCAR’s terms for reinstatement so he could follow the proper steps to get back to racing. NASCAR did what it thought was right when Jones’ ruling was released, but now it should take into consideration the totality of the circumstances, as well as the lack of evidence against him and #LetKurtReturn.
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