DiZinno: INDYCAR taking right step with Kurt Busch statement


Last year, Kurt Busch was one of the stories of the racing season, for on-track purposes first before all the details of the alleged domestic abuse between he and ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll began to emerge.

Busch’s participation in last year’s Indianapolis 500 came following a yearlong buildup, from his first test in May 2013 that planted the seed for a potential double in 2014.

It shifted from a case of “Will he, won’t he,” to “How can they make it happen without it being another ‘build me up, buttercup just to let me down?'” type of deal.

All partners worked together to make it happen. Chevrolet and Honda. Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport. NASCAR and INDYCAR.

Busch was one of the stars of the month of May, 2014, and justifiably earned Indianapolis 500 Rookie-of-the-Year honors with a sixth place finish.

Last year, it was definitely a case of “timing was everything” to make a double happen.

Because for now, the timing is right to say no to Busch racing in the series again.

INDYCAR released its own statement Saturday that says Busch hasn’t applied for membership and doesn’t expect him to.

It doesn’t outright, explicitly say “No, we’re not having him,” but the wording is strong enough within the release that due to the sanctioning body taking all charges of domestic abuse seriously, a return wouldn’t be welcomed.

By end of day Saturday, Busch had gone through two unsuccessful appeal attempts. His NASCAR career is now in question, and Chevrolet had also suspended its relationship with the 2004 Sprint Cup champion.

“Chevrolet has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely. We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary,” a Chevrolet statement read.

While it might be good to have Busch back in the Indianapolis 500 from a competitive standpoint – his talent has never been on trial – it wouldn’t be good to have him back from a PR standpoint.

Firstly, Busch was a story last year because his was the first “double” attempt in a decade, since Robby Gordon’s last go was interrupted by rain in 2004. It had been a regular occurrence for the previous decade from 1994 through 2004, with John Andretti, Davy Jones and Tony Stewart also making runs at it.

This year, in the 2015 edition of the race, “the double” would not be the story it was a year ago.

The story at Indianapolis this year is expected to center on the debut of the speedway specification aero kits first, more than any outside one-off entries expected to compete (with no disrespect to them, neither Bryan Clauson nor Jay Howard is going to generate as much interest on a national level scale as Busch did).

Secondly, in the year that has occurred since Busch confirmed his double appearance, the public opinion view on domestic abuse has changed – and changed rapidly. The Ray Rice story during 2014 shocked the nation, thanks in large part to the two videos that emerged with it.

The mere allegation of domestic abuse now justifiably raises red flags and concerns – even though domestic abuse should have been a greater issue before before Rice’s case put it into the public arena on a wider scale.

For Busch, having that allegation tacked onto him is just the latest string of concerning stories that have peppered and interrupted his career.

Busch’s self-inflicted meltdowns, whether it was his alleged DUI stop in Arizona in 2005, or his verbal spats with reporters Dr. Jerry Punch (2011) or Bob Pockrass (2012) didn’t inflict any physical harm. A domestic abuse allegation adds that concerning element to an already checkered past.

Thirdly, INDYCAR doesn’t need another PR hit. The lengthy offseason has gotten enough blowback in social media as it is, and that was before the back-to-back double dip of Brian Barnhart being confirmed again as Race Director and the Brasilia season opener being canceled in successive days.

Sure, you can argue, INDYCAR would be making a place for Busch’s talent to shine if it were to allow him to compete. But to some, Busch’s acceptance could be perceived as INDYCAR being accepting or open of drivers alleged to have committed domestic abuse.

INDYCAR’s statement shuts that down on the spot, with this line: “We will act firmly and strongly in responding to all matters of domestic violence.”

Important to note, but Busch has not been charged with any crime in the alleged incident. Driscoll has her own doubters, and there are those that find her story throughout the testimony pegged high on the questionable meter.

Regardless, adding Busch to the INDYCAR field is a headache or controversy the series doesn’t need to take right now.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”