On Wednesday, the Kurt Busch saga came to a messy conclusion with NASCAR lifting his indefinite suspension. The driver of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 Chevrolet remains on probation and must complete the “treatment program” NASCAR had laid out for him shortly after announcing the indefinite suspension in the days leading up to the Daytona 500. He must also comply with the terms a judge laid down when issuing a Protection from Abuse order for Busch’s former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. These include a ban on purchasing or possessing any firearms or ammo while not trying to make contact with Driscoll be it in person, by phone or on the internet (which would include any form of social media.) Given the limitations of life in the Garage area at NASCAR events, Busch must keep as distant from Driscoll as “practicable” (did the judge mean “practical,” perhaps?) He was also told to undergo a mental health evaluation in regards to anger and impulse control. (And no, in this case appearing with Charlie Sheen on another episode of Anger Management wasn’t going to cut it.) Had he been a NASCAR fan, Commissioner David Jones (who issued the order of protection) might also have ordered an exorcism for Busch, a man who was doing a pretty fair job of trying to torpedo his own career without help prior to Gene Haas’ decision to rescue the elder Busch brother from the scrap heap of ignominy. Among the folks no longer on Busch’s Christmas card list you’ll likely find Jack Roush, Roger Penske and Dr. Jerry Punch. I’ve heard some compare Kurt Busch to Curtis Turner back in his day but I reject that comparison. Turner was usually drunk at the time for his most outrageous antics. If he’s to be believed, Busch contends he doesn’t drink on race weekends.
For those of you who might have been distracted by comatose pop stars, color shifting dresses and llamas on the lam during the Busch saga here’s a quick timeline of what’s happened to date.
9/22/14 This is the date Driscoll claims that the incident of domestic abuse took place inside Busch’s motor coach parked in the driver’s lot at Dover International Speedway.
11/05/14 Driscoll reports the incident to police in Delaware.
01/12/15 Busch appears in court to contest Driscoll’s request for a protection from abuse order. Driscoll states she feels Busch’s temper issues stem from alcoholism and depression. Busch makes headlines stating Driscoll is a government-trained assassin, recounting a bizarre incident in which Driscoll allegedly left his bus in camouflage and returned later that evening in a bloody white ball gown. In a less controversial and rarely repeated statement, Busch told the court that he’d decided to end his approximately four-year relationship with Driscoll (which had started while Busch was still married to his previous wife) because she was monopolizing his time and he needed to focus on racing.
02/16/15 Delaware County Commissioner David Jones (no relation to the late pop star from the Monkees) issues the Protection from Abuse order against Busch. To reiterate, this issue was a matter of civil law, not a criminal trial. Jones wrote in his opinion that the preponderance of evidence suggested that the alleged incident took place. The standard of proof in a civil court is lower than that in a criminal court. In his ruling, Jones also stated that both parties had lied in their testimony but Driscoll’s account was closer to what he felt was the truth, a bit of Solomonic wisdom from the courts unprecedented in any episode of Matlock or Perry Mason I’ve ever caught. (To digress, as is my habit, the judiciary in Delaware also once decided a college couple who went to a motel room to deliver their child and then bashed the infant’s head into a dumpster until it died each deserved a one-year sentence.)
02/19/15 Driscoll appears on a talk show on FOX and ups the ante considerably. She alleges she is far from the only wife/girlfriend of NASCAR members to have been abused and that the culture is condoned to the point these incidents are not reported. The sizzling and popping sound, as well as the smell of bacon was NASCAR’s corporate toes from the Little Piggie that Went to Market to the Little Piggie that Went Wee-Wee-Wee All The Way Home being held to the fire.
02/20/15 NASCAR suspends Busch “indefinitely” citing sections 12.1.a Conduct detrimental to stock car racing and 12.8 Behavioral Penalty. Busch expended his two shots at appealing the decision the next day and both appeals were denied. Regan Smith is chosen to drive the No. 41 car in the Daytona 500.
03/02/15 NASCAR releases a statement that the previous week, Busch had agreed to the terms and conditions NASCAR had issued to begin his pathway back from suspension. Those terms and conditions are not a matter of public record but an “expert facilitator” will design the program Busch must adhere to and will ultimately have the final say so on when Busch can race again.
03/05/15 Delaware’s Attorney’s General’s Office announces it will not file criminal charges against Busch stemming from the alleged incident of abuse.
03/06/15 NASCAR’s David Hidgon tells Sirius/XM NASCAR the sport “had to act” by suspending Busch after the protection from abuse order was issued in Delaware. That whirring sound in the background is NASCAR suddenly backpedaling for all they are worth.
03/11/15 NASCAR lifts Busch’s suspension. In their decision, they note that Busch had already completed all requirements in the reinstatement process, completed his mandatory behavioral assessment, and the behavioral health expert in charge of Busch’s recovery program had given his official blessing to Busch returning to competition. NASCAR also said despite missing the first three races of the season, Busch will be eligible to make this year’s Chase. To do so, Busch must win a race between now and Richmond and be in the top 30 in points or be one of the drivers highest in points who failed to win a race within the top 16.
So who wins here in the long run? In the end all parties, Driscoll, Busch and NASCAR lose with this “kissing your sister” outcome. We’re presented here with an enigma because this isn’t a matter of “he said’ and “she said” with the truth being somewhere in the middle. Busch has presented his “truth” and Ms. Driscoll her “truth.” Those two truths can not coexist. One party is clearly lying. Ultimately, there are only two people who know exactly what did occur in that bus parked at Dover that night. (Or perhaps a third but if there is any hero in this unsavory tale, it’s Driscoll’s son’s biological father who has begged that the child be left out of this mess. Cheers to him.)
For Driscoll, it took a lot of courage to come forward with her allegations particularly when they involved a notable stock car racer and a former series champion to boot. The claims she made were of an extremely serious nature and involved one of the most heinous crimes on the books, domestic violence. From the moment she made those charges, Driscoll’s character and truthfulness have been called into question not only by Busch but by folks on social media and the less social media (as in the press) with opinions based not on facts but on how they felt about Busch. Driscoll was a heroine to those who’d already written Busch off as a bad-tempered jerk and a character assassin to those who continue to support one of the sport’s most polarizing stars. Unfortunately, some of her critics have also turned on the Armed Forces Foundation, a charity that helps soldiers suffering from physical and psychological wounds as a result of serving this country and their families. Driscoll is listed as President of the AFF. I’d hope that once the dust settles, even those who revile Driscoll will at least admit the AFF does good works too countless to list here for extremely deserving recipients.
While Driscoll got her protection from abuse order, ultimately the Delaware Attorney General’s Office decided not to press criminal charges against Busch, charges that were richly warranted if, in fact Driscoll was telling the truth. My guess is that after seeing how Driscoll was treated, other individuals within the sport who feel they’ve been the victim of abuse are going to be even more hesitant to come forward. Recall if Driscoll is to be believed, there are numerous other women in the NASCAR community who have been and continue to be abused as NASCAR tacitly condones a climate where such things are allowable. “What happens in NASCAR stays in NASCAR,” if you will. If these allegations are true, it behooves Driscoll to name names and give dates because right now her making those statements on TV and the timing of Busch’s suspension are highly suspicious.
If Driscoll’s concern is for the mental health of her former boyfriend, which she claims was her impetus to make these allegations public in the first place she got no satisfaction there either. It’s beyond bizarre that while agreeing to the treatment plan set forth by NASCAR, Busch has continued to deny that he ever committed an act of domestic violence and after being reinstated today, Busch said the allegations against him were “complete fabrications.” (This accusation is a very politically correct way for him to say my former girlfriend is a liar.) It’s interesting that NASCAR says that Busch has now successfully completed his mental health treatment when any mental health treatment program has to start with the patient admitting there’s a problem to be addressed. What might have appeased Driscoll at the outset would have been for Busch to admit he had, in fact, victimized her, that he knew it was a serious mistake, and that he was going to seek treatment for the underlying behaviors that led to him to commit such an egregious act. Had he been able to do so, this whole mess might have played out in psychiatric offices, not in the media as it should have all along. Fat chance. In a classic bit of role reversal, Busch is now trying to wrest the mantle of victimhood from Driscoll as often happens in domestic violence cases. Today, Busch said that it was “torture” for him to have to sit and watch somebody else drive the No. 41 car in the first three races of the season. I’d think if Busch were to spend a single evening in a busy emergency room watching the victims of domestic abuse being wheeled in with broken bones, missing teeth and rearranged faces at the hands of someone who claimed to love them he’d develop a new definition for “torture.”
So if Driscoll lost than necessarily Busch must have won, correct? Far from it. From this date forward, casual fans of the sport and non-fans of the sport will likely equate his name with “That guy who got suspended for punching out his old lady” rather than as a 25-time winner in the Cup series and the inaugural Chase champion back in 2004. (Yep, 11 years ago… oh, and for the record while the topic is open why is it that every mainstream media article on this topic has claimed that Busch is the driver known as “Rowdy” in racing circles. I’ve never heard him referred to as “Rowdy” by anyone outside the FOX announce booth. He gets called “Kyle” a whole lot more than that.) So Busch is able to return to racing this weekend at Phoenix having had to sit out three races for conduct he still maintains he never engaged in. In addition to the points, he lost out on whatever purse money he might have earned. (Though my guess is he can afford to do so, so there’s no need to start boxing care packages of Ramen noodles for him to be sure he eats the next few weeks.) Most important, this already sullied reputation has taken a severe hit and the fact the Delaware Attorney General’s office declined to press criminal charges hardly leaves him smelling like a rose. Busch is fortunate enough to enjoy unique circumstances inside the garage. His car owner, Gene Haas, has stood unflaggingly beside his accused driver and since Haas pays to run the No. 41 team out of his pocket, there’s no primary sponsor to deal with like there would be for most drivers.
My guess is in these politically correct times, it will be a long while before any sponsor is going to want anything to do with Busch given his uncanny ability to carefully aim a loaded weapon and unfailingly shoot himself right in the foot. I noticed, which means doubtlessly Busch did too, the rather tepid support Busch got from his team during his ordeal and we’ll have to see how that plays out going forward. Only today when it was already apparent that Busch was about to be reinstated anyway, did Kevin Harvick admit he missed having Busch around the garage for the last three weeks because of Busch’s ability to analyze how a car was handling and what should be done to fix it. (Considering that Harvick finished second, second and first in those races apparently Harvick found a way to muddle through without Kurt anyway.)
Once Driscoll made these serious allegations against him Busch was pretty much backed into the corner, seeing the noose hanging before him but having to wait for the legal process to be completed in Delaware anyway. It probably would have been better for him to sit himself out of those three races much as his half team owner Tony Stewart did while waiting to see if any criminal charges would be filed against him in the aftermath of that tragedy on the dirt track last year. (A strategy some now attribute to Patricia Driscoll, no less as she engaged in psychological ops to see that the media present Stewart in the best possible light, not as a cold blooded, premeditated murderer. Seriously that’s been alleged, you just can’t make this crap up. ) Kurt could have sat himself, simply stating that the legal issues were a distraction to him and he didn’t want to perform at less than his best or put his fellow competitors in danger driving distracted. That would be preferable to being suspended by NASCAR. In the eyes of many reasonable people, agreeing to go through the rehabilitation NASCAR has mandated was tantamount to admitting, “Yeah, I did what I’m accused of.” If Busch wanted to walk away from this unholy mess a winner he should have refused to enter such a treatment program and wait for the matter to play out in court though that didn’t work out so well for Jeremy Mayfield. Less than two weeks passed between the time that Busch agreed to enter that program and the decision not to file criminal charges in Delaware which ultimately led to his reinstatement anyway. It might seem counterintuitive but the only way Busch was going to walk away from this nightmare vindicated was for the criminal charges to be filed and either a judge or 12 of his peers ultimately decided that he was innocent of those charges. As such, Busch will be tainted with allegations he got away with what he did because of who he is. (And equally valid argument can be made the whole legal process took so long because of who Busch is, paired with his still head-scratching testimony that his blonde bombshell former girlfriend was a government-trained assassin). Even if Busch truly believed that in his heart, I remained stunned that his lawyer let him say so in a court of law. The whole “was monopolizing my time” excuse just plays out so much better, at least in front of people who ar somewhat sane. As a first step back towards clearing his reputation I’d like to see Busch go on record as saying, “While I’m no longer in a relationship with Patricia Driscoll, I continue to support her organization the AFF because of all the good works they do in helping our wounded heroes. It’s a long climb back up but sometimes taking the high road is the only option open. For the foreseeable future, Busch’s career is tied to Haas’ willingness to finance the No. 41 team out of his pocket and let’s not forget Haas has a lot on his plate (and a lot of big checks to write) as he tries to get his American-based Formula One team on track for a debut next year.
If this entire disaster served to make Driscoll look like a scorned woman and Busch a knuckle-dragging Troglodyte, it was NASCAR’s reputation that may have taken the hardest hit. Domestic violence is a hot button topic now (and deservedly, at long last) to the point no sport’s sanctioning body can afford to ignore it. But by suspending Busch because he lost a civil trial and reinstating him without his having been found innocent beyond a reasonable doubt, NASCAR’s policy on domestic violence seems to be swayed by the court of public opinion and not a court of law. I also find it ironic that NASCAR suspended Busch saying that he broke the rules and today they decided to modify (ahem….break…) the rules themselves by giving Busch an opportunity to make the Chase despite not at least trying to qualify for the last three races. The fact many longtime fans and and pundits of NASCAR feel the sport’s rulebook is written on an Etch-A-Sketch could be resolved if only they’d release that rulebook the way legitimate sports do. Or maybe not. Having read that rulebook, I can tell you at least as of a couple years ago NASCAR gives them all the wriggle room a walrus would need stating that this is the rule EIEO (except in extraordinary instances and guess who gets to define “extraordinary instance”?
The slam on the NFL (obviously no pun intended) is that they did not have a policy concerning domestic violence in place prior to some of (and let’s recall a decided minimum) of their players making the headlines for beating their wives and girlfriends. As of today, NASCAR doesn’t have such a policy either. It’s pretty clear to me that in the event of future such allegations NASCAR should, in fact wait until criminal charges are not only filed but the actor is found guilty in a court of law at which point a “Hammer of God” penalty of a lifetime suspension would be handed down. No appeals. You had your day in court. But it is NASCAR’s tendency to be reactive, not proactive in dealing with problems and waiting to see how an issue plays out in the court of public opinion before coming down with their next wishy-washy stance. If both parties to the original legal action walk away bloody, bruised and wounded NASCAR has failed to cloak themselves in glory here either. Kurt Busch either did or he didn’t. There’s no in between.
Partisans on both sides have accused the media of adding fuel to the fire and distorting the facts in this entire matter so I guess in fairness I should add I don’t know Patricia Driscoll at all and I haven’t spoken to Kurt Busch probably in about a decade. So if either of you two chooses to go out to lunch with me to explain why I’m wrong, the meal is on me. Let me quickly add, given the limits of meals and entertainment on my expense account here at FS it will probably be someplace more modest than either of you are used to. But then again America runs on Dunkin, right? Ms. Driscoll, I need to remind you that my local Dunkin Donuts is a “weapons free” zone. Mr. Busch, if we’re going to lunch I’m driving.
(Hey campers, as some of you know even I, the eternal Luddite living out here in Amish Country now have a Twitter Account. I still maintain these Instagram, Pinning, Liking and Facebook doohickeys are a Communist plot worse than Fluoridation of municipal water.) So if you’re of the mind to you can look me up @agingoldhippie or just do a search of Matt McLaughlin and look for the one with the Grateful Dead skull as a picture. I’m looking for a couple volunteers either this weekend or next for my first big Twitter experiment, an interactive blog to delve in to how hard or easy it is watch and maintain interest in the Cup race in Phoenix or most especially Fontana, a track that has routinely put me to sleep since it was added to the circuit. Like I said, I’m new at all this stuff and conducting this experiment is contingent on me figuring out how to load Twitter successfully on my Tablet but if you’re interested, post to my Twitter account or below and we’ll see what we can do. Hopefully, I’m not setting myself up for another high-tech disaster that a battalion of the Geek Squad’s best and Bill Gates himself couldn’t fix.