NBC Sports reports this morning that Kurt Busch has signed NASCAR's terms and conditions for the series' consideration of his reinstatement as a driver following his indefinite suspension. The suspension still holds in the meantime, however, there is the possibility that Busch will return to the grid.
NASCAR suspended Busch after the Family Court of Delaware released their conclusions regarding the protective order Busch's ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll was awarded against Busch. When the commissioner ruled that it was "more likely than not" that Busch strangled his ex-girlfriend and smashed her head against a wall, the series took swift action against Busch, revoking his ability to participate in NASCAR activities.
However, NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications vice president David Higdon told NBC Sports that the terms and conditions that would allow Busch to return have been signed. There is no timetable for the completion of the requirements, and the requirements must be met before NASCAR will even consider Busch's reinstatement.
In other words, fill-in driver Regan Smith's seat seems safe for the immediate future. (Update: According to AP reporter Jenna Fryer, Stewart-Haas Racing has not confirmed Smith's drive in Busch's number 41 car past this weekend's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.)
Creating a path to NASCAR's consideration of a driver's reinstatement is standard operating procedure for the series. Higdon explained to NBC Sports that NASCAR does the same for other suspensions (such as those involving substance abuse), and creates guidelines in a collaborative process based on the opinions of experts:
The outside experts, one of the things they had advised us from the beginning was no matter what actions we take … that it was very, very important for us to provide a road back. For those who are experts in this field, specifically in domestic violence, that is critical. We did follow that advice. We're pleased that he has indicated he will begin the program that we have laid out for him.
As horrible as acts of domestic violence are, this makes sense. Livelihoods give people meaning. Take that away with no foreseeable means of getting it back, and you have yet more personal instability when dealing with an alleged offender trying to get their act back together.
According to Higdon, representatives from NASCAR craft their expectations of a driver, but then meet with experts regarding the particular offense to finalize and polish their expectations for conduct from a driver looking for reinstatement.
Busch will be assigned an expert of his own to work with and report to by the series as part of his path to reinstatement.
Kurt Busch has not been formally charged for a criminal offense regarding the alleged incident with Patricia Driscoll by the Delaware attorney general's office, which is a point of contention among the Busch faithful. NASCAR's decisions so far have been based off the findings of the protective order hearings alone. "More likely than not" is the standard evidence must meet in civil hearings such as the one for Driscoll's protective order, however, a criminal charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt—a higher standard to meet.
NASCAR, on the other hand, does not want to come off as soft on domestic violence given how other high-profile sports cases have been handled recently. They are not a legal entity and thus, determined that the findings of the report were enough for them to act on.
In the meantime, though, working with Busch to set expectations for the consideration of his return seems like a good compromise between parties asking the series to drop the suspension and the series' need to protect its own reputation.
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