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.