Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - NASCAR placed Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch on indefinite suspension Friday after a Delaware family court commissioner concluded that Busch "committed an act of domestic violence" against his ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.
Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing and 2004 champion in NASCAR's premier series, was scheduled to start 24th in Sunday's Daytona 500.
According to a decision released by Kent County (Del.) Family Court Commissioner David Jones, the court found by a "preponderance of the evidence" that Busch committed an act of domestic violence against Driscoll by "manually strangling her by placing his left hand on her throat, while placing his right hand on her chin and face and smashing her head into the wall of his motor home" on Sept. 26, 2014 at Dover International Speedway. Sprint Cup was competing at Dover at the time.
Jones also noted that Busch had recklessly placed Driscoll "in reasonable fear of physical injury." Furthermore, Jones believed there was a "substantial likelihood" that Busch could commit further acts of domestic violence in the future.
NASCAR immediately suspended Busch when it learned of the court's opinion.
"Given the serious nature of the findings and conclusions made by the Commissioner of the Family Court of the State of Delaware, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch, effective immediately," the sanctioning body said in its statement. "He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice.
"Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are fully aware of our position and why this decision was made. We will continue to respect the process and timetable of the authorities involved."
NASCAR noted in its news release of Busch's suspension that he was found to be in violation of Section 12.1.a (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and Section 12.8 (behavioral penalty) of the NASCAR rule book.
During a press conference on Friday evening at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell explained that NASCAR will not tolerated any act of abuse or violence.
"NASCAR has made it very clear to our entire membership and the broader industry that any actions of abuse will not be tolerated in the industry, and I want to make it clear that any inference that there is a culture or a tolerance for this type of behavior is patently false," O'Donnell said. "We don't plan to comment any further (Friday night). This is an on-going legal matter in Delaware."
Busch's attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement that he plans to immediately appeal NASCAR's suspension.
"We are extremely disappointed that NASCAR has suspended Kurt Busch, and we plan an immediate appeal," Hardin noted in his statement. "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."
O'Donnell said that if Busch decides to appeal the penalty, NASCAR will expedite the process. The appeal hearing could be held before Sunday's Daytona 500
Regan Smith, a regular in the Xfinity Series, will drive the No. 41 car in place of Busch in the Daytona 500. Smith will have to start the 500-mile race from the rear of the field due to the driver change. He will participate in Saturday's 85-minute long final practice for the Daytona 500.
Last August, Smith substituted for Tony Stewart in Stewart-Haas Racing's No. 14 car at Watkins Glen International, one day after Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. during an accident in a sprint car race held at a dirt track in Upstate New York.
Officials from SHR said an interim driver for the No. 41 at next weekend's race at Atlanta and subsequent events has yet to be determined.
"We understand NASCAR's position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision," SHR executive vice president Joe Custer said in a team statement.
Chevrolet has cut its ties with Busch, indefinitely, as well.
"Chevrolet has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely," Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's vice president of motorsports and performance vehicles, said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary."
On Monday, the court ordered Busch to maintain a distance from Driscoll and not have any contact with her. In November, Driscoll filed a domestic abuse claim against Busch. She also sought a protection order from him in court. Four days of hearings were held from December to January.
Jones ruled that Busch must "stay 100 yards away from (Driscoll) in person, residence and workplace, except at NASCAR races and related events where closer proximity is required for (Busch) to perform his duties as a driver or sponsored athlete. On such occasions, (Busch) shall maintain the maximum practicable distance from (Driscoll) and shall not contact or attempt to contact (her)."
Jones also made it unlawful for Busch to purchase, receive, transport or possess firearms and ammunition. He also ordered Busch to be "evaluated for mental health problems related to anger control and impulse control by a licensed mental health treatment provider and shall follow any recommendations of the evaluator(s) for counseling or treatment."
The order is set to expire on Feb. 16, 2016.
Busch is appealing the protective order, and on Thursday, his attorney, Hardin, appealed the court to reopen the proceedings.
The Delaware Attorney General's office has yet to make its decision on criminal charges against Busch. Police conducted a criminal investigation and handed their findings to the attorney general's office for review in early January.