Appeals panel upholds Busch's indefinite suspension

Daytona Beach, FL ( - Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch lost his initial appeal to be reinstated after NASCAR suspended him indefinitely on Friday due to a Delaware court ruling that he committed an act of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

The three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel heard and considered the appeal of Busch on Saturday, a hearing that began at noon ET and lasted roughly three hours.

According to a statement from the panel, which consisted of former NASCAR executive Paul Brooks, former race car driver Lyn St. James and Greenville Pickens Speedway (S.C.) track owner Kevin Whitaker, the panel "decided that the Appellant (Busch) violated the rules set forth in the penalty notice. The panel therefore decided to uphold the original penalty assessed by NASCAR."

NASCAR placed Busch on indefinite suspension when it learned that Delaware Family Court Commissioner David Jones concluded in his 25-page opinion that "more likely than not that on September 26, 2014 (at Dover International Speedway) Respondent (Busch) committed an act of abuse against Petitioner (Driscoll) by manually strangling (her) with his left hand on her throat, while placing his right hand against her chin and face, causing her head to forcefully strike the interior wall of (Busch's) motor home, thereby recklessly causing physical injury to (Driscoll) and recklessly placing (her) in reasonable apprehension of physical injury."

According to NASCAR, Busch 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.

Earlier in the week, Jones had granted Driscoll a protective order from Busch. In November, Driscoll filed a domestic abuse claim against him. She also sought a protection order from Busch in court. Four days of hearings were held from December to January.

Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing and the 2004 champion in NASCAR's premier series, has elected to appeal the panel's decision to the Final Appeals Officer, Bryan Moss. Busch's final appeal hearing is expected to be held on Saturday night.

According to the rules of the NASCAR appeal process, Busch was not allowed legal representation during his hearing. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, released a statement following the panel's decision.

"We are very disappointed that our appeal was rejected by NASCAR's appeal panel," Hardin said in his statement. "We are re-appealing immediately, per the proscribed process. We have significant and strong evidence that contradicts the commissioner's conclusions.

"In the end, we are confident that Kurt will be vindicated and he will be back racing. Until then, we will continue to fight on his behalf by ensuring that the entire truth is known."

Representing NASCAR during the appeal hearing was Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of racing operations for the sanctioning body.

Busch was scheduled to start 24th in Sunday's Daytona 500 -- NASCAR's most prestigious race of the season. Regan Smith, a regular in the Xfinity Series, will drive the No. 41 car in place of Busch, even if Moss were to reinstate Busch. SHR officials had said before the initial appeal hearing that Smith would be the driver of the No. 41, regardless of Busch's appeal outcome.

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.