For the better part of a week I fought the urge to write this column. Over the past year domestic violence has been the most controversial topic in all of sports, and I wanted to stay far, far away. No man should ever lay hands on a female. That’s why I can’t believe what I’m about to say – man, has NASCAR screwed up with Kurt Busch.
I say this from a fairness standpoint, a legal standpoint and most importantly to NASCAR, a public relations standpoint. With pressure from all sides the sanctioning body made a reactionary decision. It was also the wrong decision.
Kurt Busch is probably a bully – he essentially derailed Jimmy Spencer’s career. He’s probably a jerk – his profane outbursts and surly behavior have led to his firing by two of the sport’s top teams. He’s troubled – he clearly has anger issues and has worked with a sports psychologist. He is a rebel – he has “The Outlaw” lettered on his car in place of his Christian name. But Kurt Busch isn’t a criminal.
I don’t believe it is necessary to re-hash the entire Kurt Busch domestic violence accusation in this column, since the alleged incident has been national news for several months. Both Busch and his ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll’s stories about the altercation make little sense. I cannot bring myself to fully believe either of them. But prosecutors could not establish enough evidence to even charge Busch with a crime. Let me repeat – Busch has never been criminally charged as an abuser.
It is said in America we are innocent until proven guilty. But in this case there was no need to even hold a trial for proof – authorities aren’t even sure a crime was committed.
Yet Busch has been suspended indefinitely. He was pulled from a potentially winning car two days before the biggest race of the season. He’s still being forced to sit out after what ended up ultimately being a “he-said, she-said” incident. He’s lost his manufacturer’s Sponsorship from Chevrolet.
If Driscoll wanted Busch charged, she lost her battle. If she wanted to ruin an ex’s life, she is winning that war.
All of this because “NASCAR is serious about domestic violence.” Which, of course, is a reaction to public outcry over NFL players beating the crap out of their significant others. NASCAR has never paid attention to domestic violence in the past. In 2013 NASCAR racer Travis Kvapil was charged and plead guilty in a domestic assault case. He was never punished and will race this weekend. Mainly because he isn’t Kurt Busch.
It’s obvious that officials wanted to make an example out of Busch, who has always refused to play nice. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jimmie Johnson faced the same accusations, would they be sitting at home this weekend? If you believe that, you also believe Jeremy Mayfield is the only Cup driver to have ever failed a drug test. There is one rule in NASCAR – don’t rock the boat.
Over the past decade NASCAR has been hemorrhaging fans for a variety of reasons – some self-induced but most uncontrollable. In the eyes of the sport’s purists who are angry about events being pulled from the series’ Southern tracks and changes to the championship format, CEO Brian France can do no right. These vocal fans will complain about even the most innocuous decisions, thus they have latched on to Kurt Busch and promoted him to martyr status. This is a guy who a year ago had fewer fans than I do. If NASCAR suspended Busch to avoid a public outcry, they clearly misjudged the sentiment of their fan base. I’ve even seen outrage from women demanding Busch’s re-instatement.
At this point the best thing officials can do is put Busch back in the car immediately. His two-race suspension is two races longer than any other racer has ever served for domestic violence. Since he faces no legal issues, keeping him out of the car brings more unwanted attention to the sport. NASCAR leadership says Busch has agreed to a path to re-instatement, but the terms are unclear, and operating in the dark merely fuels the fans’ angry opinion that “The Outlaw” is being railroaded. Just be transparent and declare the case closed. Here’s hoping everyone can move on from this train wreck soon and get back to what we came for – racing.