Our Sponsors

Kurt Busch- Domestic abuse charges could derail his career

Feb 24, 2015

By Lars Anderson

The van rolled through the South Florida darkness, the champagne-soaked NASCAR driver sitting in the backseat.

It was the autumn of 2004, a time when stock-car racing had thundered to its peak popularity in America, and now the sport’s champion gazed over his shoulder at the glimmering floodlights illuminating Homestead-Miami Speedway. Staring back at the site of his greatest career triumph, looking at the track where he had won his first and only Sprint Cup championship a few hours earlier, Kurt Busch looked so content.

But then, at the crowning hour of his career, Busch began to speak. He was prickly, on edge and still feeling as if the world was hurling sharpened spears at him. He was, in other words, quintessential Kurt Busch.

“Maybe now I’ll finally get just a little damn respect,” he said back then as the van cruised away from the track. “I know I’m different than every other driver, coming from Las Vegas with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I don’t do the right things sometimes and act the right way. But do I care what other people think of me? Not really. I’m going to be in your face and keep charging.”

This was the Busch I knew in my decade on the NASCAR beat. He could be utterly difficult to deal with — there’s a reason he burned through a conga line of crew chiefs and PR people over the years — and he often let his emotions do his talking.

Many blemishes
He suffered an epic meltdown in 2011 when he unleashed an expletive-laced rant on ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch. He even went through anger management counseling as far back as his title-winning season in 2004.

In the last 10 years, it seemed that for every good thing Busch did — such as twice speaking to my journalism students at the University of Alabama — there was a blemish. He threatened to beat up a reporter in 2012 for “asking stupid questions,” and in 2005, he was suspended for two races after a confrontation with a police officer outside of Phoenix.
Busch’s history of exhibiting a short fuse is now more relevant than ever. Two days before NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500, a family court commissioner in Kent County, Delaware, ruled that Busch, 36, smashed the head of his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, against the wall of his motor home last Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway.

Commissioner David Jones wrote that the court found that Busch “committed an act of domestic violence against Petitioner [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,” per USA Today’s Jeff Gluck.
NASCAR was quick to suspend Busch indefinitely, and Busch’s appeal the next day was denied.

It’s important to note that this was a civil case, and no criminal charges have been filed against Busch. The family court granted Driscoll’s request for a protective order against Busch, who is appealing the decision.

Important questions
This moment — not that time of ascendance in 2004 — is now the defining one of Busch’s career and raises career- and life-altering questions about his future. Will he use this time away from racing for serious introspection? Will he turn a negative into a positive? Will he change?

There’s a reason why I asked Busch to talk to my students: He possesses a quick, agile mind. He’s the rare driver who can hold court on myriad social issues. And when he was with my students, he was brutally honest about what pissed him off most about reporters (lack of preparation) and what he thought made a good reporter (simply being fair and presenting all sides of the story). My students adored him.

There were crashes at the Daytona 500, but even before then, the big wreck in Busch’s life had occurred.
What remains to be seen is if and how he will recover.

Lars Anderson, now a senior writer at Bleacher Report, covered NASCAR during his 20 years at Sports Illustrated.
To add listings to the comparison table, click on the Compare icon in the upper right of any listing.