Before a protective order was issued against Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing assured fans that they had a back-up plan in case Kurt Busch could not race. After NASCAR's decision today to suspend Busch indefinitely, we know who that back-up plan is: Regan Smith.
A Delaware court released more information regarding its ruling Friday in the hearing that awarded Busch's ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll a protective order against the Stewart-Haas Racing driver. The family court commissioner said that a preponderance of evidence presented in the trial demonstrated that Busch strangled Driscoll and smashed her head against the wall of his motor home during an argument after qualifying at Dover International Speedway.
NASCAR knew of the protective order on Monday but chose not to act until after further details on the ruling were released yesterday. Due to the severe nature of the conclusions drawn by the Commissioner of the Family Court of Delaware, NASCAR suspended Busch almost immediately after that additional information information was released.
Subsequently, Stewart-Haas named Xfinity Series standout Regan Smith as the interim driver of the number 41 car in a statement today. Daytona is such a big event on NASCAR's calendat that it is often referred to as NASCAR's Super Bowl, so it was unlikely that Stewart-Haas would let an entry go unused. Smith will also be allowed to drive in today's 85-minute practice for the Daytona 500.
Smith has a history with Stewart-Haas Racing, having stepped in for Tony Stewart after the tragic sprint car accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.
He has also substituted for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Junior suffered a concussion in 2012.
Smith was named Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Interim drivers for subsequent races have not been determined by the team. Smith is only stepping in for the Daytona 500 for now. Because Busch's number 41 car exists in Sprint Cup because Gene Haas personally wanted Busch there (and even went over team co-owner Tony Stewart's head to do so), some fans wonder if the car will continue to race in the series now that Busch cannot.
Back to the hearing details, "preponderance of evidence" refers to the more-likely-than-not standard used for determining civil cases such as those regarding protective orders. No criminal charges have been assessed for Busch's alleged domestic assault of Driscoll. Criminal guilt must meet a higher standard than preponderance of evidence, and courts would have to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Busch committed an act of violence against Driscoll for him to be ruled guilty of the crime.
It is on this detail that Busch hopes to appeal NASCAR's decision.
"We are extremely disappointed that NASCAR has suspended Kurt Busch," said Busch attorney Rusty Hardin in a statement Friday afternoon, as quoted by ESPN. "We assure everyone, including NASCAR, that this action against Mr. Busch will turn out to be a travesty of justice, apparent to all, as this story continues to unfold."
Hardin cannot represent Busch in his appeal to NASCAR, however, he and Busch plan to appeal the protective order in court.
According to ESPN, NASCAR's appeals are handled by a three-member panel selected from a list of former drivers, racing executives and racing promoters. NASCAR presents their evidence against Busch first, then Busch is allowed to present his side of the story. Both sides are allowed to rebut the other afterwards. Although Busch must represent himself in the appeal without legal counsel, witnesses are allowed and panelists can call other NASCAR members in the appeal as well.
After that, the only opportunity Busch has to appeal the three-member panel's decision is to Bryan Moss directly, who serves as NASCAR's final appeals officer. At any point in the appeals process, NASCAR chairman Brian France also has the ability to lift Busch's suspension.
"NASCAR will expedite the appeal process," assured NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O'Donnell in a press conference Friday. According to ESPN motorsports reporter Bob Pockrass, Busch's appeal will be heard today, one day before the running of the Daytona 500.
Even if Busch wins the appeal with NASCAR, it seems unlikely that he will get to race this Sunday. Complicating the matter further is the fact that Chevrolet announced that they will cut all ties with Busch, and Stewart-Haas Racing has a close relationship with the manufacturer whose stock cars they run.
"Chevrolet has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely," said Chevrolet Vice President of Motorsports and Performance Vehicles Jim Campbell in a statement, as quoted by ESPN. "We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary."
It's a classic case of no sponsor backing = no drive.
This is Busch's third career suspension, and marks a completely new attitude from NASCAR regarding domestic violence. NASCAR racer Travis Kvapil was charged for the assault of his wife in 2013, yet he faced no consequences from NASCAR at the time.
Photo credit: Getty Images