A day before this year’s Daytona 500 an announcement was made by NASCAR that Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch was immediately and indefinitely suspended due to actions detrimental to stock car racing. Allegations of domestic abuse from Busch’s former girlfriend forced NASCAR’s hand, as a judge in the Family Court of the State of Delaware ruled that it was “more likely than not” that the abuse occurred.
NASCAR had to make a decision quickly, and they did, by choosing the most PR-friendly route. No criminal charges were filed against Kurt Busch, nor will there be.
Everyone familiar with sports knows the issues with domestic violence that have been going on over the past year, particularly with the NFL. Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was initially suspended for just two games for domestic abuse accusations against his fiance. Once video surfaced of Rice literally knocking her out, however, the NFL had a major issue due to their mishandling of the situation and its seriousness.
Soon after that the story broke that star running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was being investigated for child abuse. With how terrible the NFL looked after the Ray Rice video came out, the league immediately sprung into action against Peterson and suspended him for the 2014 season. He eventually agreed to a plea deal that turned the charge into reckless assault, a misdemeanor. The NFL rushed to make an example out of Peterson and tried to save face, to put it simply, and NASCAR essentially did the same thing with Kurt Busch.
Kurt Busch is a good race car driver. You don’t accumulate 25 career wins (and counting) and a championship in NASCAR’s top series just by being lucky. However, he’s also a hothead, both on and off the track. His reputation has earned him the nickname “Outlaw,” although this season–once his suspension was finally lifted in early March–he decided to ditch the pseudonym from the door of his race car in favor of his signature.
Because of his anger issues, it’s not completely unbelievable that Kurt would beat a female (unfortunately). FOX Sports posted an excellent article back in February about Busch’s long history of anger issues. However, an accusation shouldn’t cause a knee-jerk reaction like what we saw out of NASCAR back in February. With how much money there is to be lost from sponsors dropping out, though, it’s somewhat understandable why NASCAR did what it did. And at least they reinstated him quickly once it was announced that no criminal charges would come out of his ex-girlfriend’s accusations.
Then the race at Auto Club Speedway happened on Sunday, and we saw just how much NASCAR doesn’t want Kurt Busch to win.
Kurt Busch had the fastest car at Auto Club Speedway all weekend; he won the pole on Friday and topped both practice charts on Saturday. Kevin Harvick was favored to win Sunday’s race at 3-1 odds but Kurt was right there behind him at 4-1. Busch led the most laps during the race on Sunday and should have won the event as well…but NASCAR’s mighty hand came down.
On lap 199 of the 200 lap event–and with Kurt Busch leading by a half-second over Kevin Harvick–NASCAR threw the caution flag for what was reported as debris in one of the turns. Kurt Busch simply said, “WWE” to his crew chief on the radio, implying (in my opinion) that NASCAR was trying to fix the race. No debris was ever shown on the television broadcast, and there were numerous drivers who said they didn’t understand why the caution flag was flown. They didn’t see the debris, either.
So, we went to a green-white-checkered restart, and Kurt Busch jumped out to the lead again, seemingly on his way to victory lane. Then Greg Biffle slid up and caused Kyle Larson to hit the wall. The back end of the #42 Chevrolet literally flew off the car, and caution flew again. This time, however, we actually saw the debris, so I’ll let it slide.
The field went green again once that was cleaned up and Kurt jumped into the lead once again, although Brad Keselowski was coming quick on new tires. Busch took the white flag, though, and started the last lap of the race, which also meant that the next flag ended the race, whether it be the yellow or the checkered. As the leaders were getting into turn one–and Keselowski gaining quick on Busch–a wreck started near the start/finish line that blocked the track. Any other day that would have caused NASCAR to throw the caution flag and declare the winner. If that would have happened it would have been Kurt Busch.
But NASCAR didn’t want Kurt Busch to win.
In a move that made nearly everyone scratch their heads, NASCAR let the field race back to the checkered flag and it was ultimately Brad Keselowski who won the 2015 Auto Club 400. Kevin Harvick also passed Kurt Busch for 2nd on that final lap, so the “Outlaw” came home 3rd. A good finish, yes, but not what he deserved.
Typically I’m don’t read into conspiracy theories very much (and if I do I don’t believe them) but NASCAR’s bias against Kurt Busch was clear as day in California on Sunday: they simply did not want him to win. Because how would it look if the guy that got accused of beating his ex-girlfriend senseless won a race and solidified his spot in the sport’s playoffs later this year? It was a PR mess that NASCAR didn’t want to deal with so they did all that they could to prevent it.
To be clear, I’m not saying all of this because I’m a huge Kurt Busch fan. In all reality, I hated Kurt Busch and thought his talent was blown out of proportion for a while. But now that NASCAR has unleashed this vendetta against him, it’s hard not to root for the guy. I also bet on Keselowski (at 11-1 odds) to win the Auto Club 400 on Sunday. However, I was still pissed off at how that all played out.
And if you don’t believe that NASCAR intentionally made calls to prevent Kurt Busch from winning on Sunday, then let’s discuss their inconsistent throwing of caution flags and penalties that have gone on over the last few years. Hey NASCAR: you want to know why you’re losing so much of your fan base and your ratings are tanking? It’s because of bullshit like this. Good luck to Kurt Busch the rest of the year, I hope he wins the championship and flips off NASCAR CEO Brian France as he hoists the trophy in Homestead.