-- The Delaware attorney general's office announced Thursday morning that it would not pursue criminal charges against Kurt Busch over the alleged assault of ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. The arrival of that announcement on headline tickers and social media timelines threw gasoline onto a debate that had been simmering since Daytona Speedweeks.
Did NASCAR act too swiftly when it indefinitely suspended Busch just two days prior to the Daytona 500, after a family court commissioner issued a detailed opinion Feb. 20 saying that Busch had committed an act of domestic violence against Driscoll? And should NASCAR immediately reinstate Busch because no criminal charges will be filed?
The answer to both is no.
It's time to call this suspension what it actually is. It's only partially about domestic violence. It's only partially about this Patricia Driscoll-centered circus of YouTube videos and trained assassins and blood-stained dresses and Rusty Hardin. And it's only partially about the differences between family court and criminal court, and the differences between "preponderance of evidence" versus "beyond a reasonable doubt."
In the end, Kurt Busch's suspension is the sum of a much larger pile of parts.
What it is, is a lifetime achievement award.
The beauty of Section 12.1.a of the NASCAR rulebook, the passage that covers "actions detrimental to stock car racing," is also what makes that passage a bit scary if you are a NASCAR competitor. It's the broadness of it. It's a disciplinary blanket that can be thrown over anything that the sanctioning body chooses.
But that blanket also has kept those competitors in check since 1948. The list of racers who have dared to repeatedly test the limits of that clause, and the patience of NASCAR's governance, would take up the tiniest slip of paper.
Kurt Busch is on that list.
"Detrimental to stock car racing" includes embarrassing the sport, dragging NASCAR's multicolored logo through the mud, through a Jerry Springer producer's show rundown, or creating situations that fuel every overplayed mainstream stereotype that auto racing isn't, but its critics so eagerly hope that it is.
Kurt Busch has accomplished all of the above. Over and over and over again.
Imagine you're working in the front office of a big employer. Or you're the principal of a school. Or you're the coach of a sports team. Every six months or so there's this big incident you have to deal with -- another incident. Your employees, students or athletes are complaining that a malcontent among them is causing problems within the team -- another set of problems.
Suddenly you have TV satellite trucks sitting in the company parking lot and lawyers ringing your phone off the hook. The company's stock drops. Again. Or the school counselor's office is full of embarrassed kids and angry parents. Again. Or the team starts losing, distracted by it all. Again.
Then, when you begin doing inventory of all those incidents and start trying to find the larger root of the issues, you realize they all have one cause -- one person -- in common. What do you do?
This is what NASCAR has had to deal with when it comes to Kurt Busch.
In the earliest days, when he was merely involved in a protracted on-track feud with Jimmy Spencer, it wasn't really a big problem. It was a racing spat. The same went for his falling-out with Jack Roush. Busch announced midseason he would be cutting ties with Roush at the end of 2005. Again, that was an internal team thing. No big deal.
But then Busch was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving and cited for reckless driving outside Phoenix International Raceway, sparking a screaming reaction from the driver and an early release from Roush Racing.
With two races remaining in the 2005 season, NASCAR wasn't leading "SportsCenter" because of Tony Stewart's epic Chase performance, but for the defending series champion's arrest and a statement from his now-former boss that Roush Racing was "officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists."
At Richmond in 2011, he had to be physically restrained from attacking a reporter in the garage, then tore a transcript in another reporter's face in the media center. Just two weeks later, he dropped an f-bomb on live TV while yelling at an ESPN pit reporter.
In the season finale, he went on an expletive-filled rant that became a YouTube sensation and was fired ... I mean, had "a mutual parting of ways" with Roger Penske.
Even while in poor-end-of-the-garage exile in 2012-13, he managed to draw a $50,000 fine for endangering people on pit road at Darlington, said his probation was the only thing that "refrains me from beating the s--- out of you" to a reporter, and found himself in on-track feuds with everyone from Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick to former teammate Brad Keselowski and Stewart, his future employer.
Then came this winter, when the sport's only headlines for weeks were those that involved the always bizarre and often upsetting testimony of the Busch vs. Driscoll soap opera.
It went from holiday late-night talk show punchlines to very serious Daytona Speedweeks headlines, made even more raw because they concerned the increasingly hot-button topic of domestic violence, particularly in the sports world.
So now imagine you're NASCAR and you are taking that incident inventory. The pattern is obvious, right? It's the same name again and again. That here-we-go-again re-emerged the week of stock car racing's Super Bowl when Driscoll received her protective order and the details of that order emerged.
TV cameras weren't at the racetrack in the days leading up to the Daytona 500. The media was outside courtrooms and office buildings. Based on the information reporters had at the time, added to what they knew had happened in the past, they did the right thing. And guess what? The Daytona 500 ran just fine without him. If anything, it opened doors for guys who deserved second shots in good cars.
Critics of Busch's suspension like to point to benefit of the doubt. Do you really think Busch deserves the benefit of anyone's doubt? He doesn't. Certainly not from the people and the organization he has repeatedly embarrassed. If anything, he's fortunate he was able to participate in Speedweeks at all.
This is not a court of law. This is a workplace. And no matter what line of work you are in, patterns and history and your direct effect on others being able to do their jobs are the ultimate factors when it comes to determining whether you get to work there anymore.
NASCAR has designed a road map for Busch to follow that will eventually lead to his reinstatement. Busch has agreed to that plan. We don't know what the details of that map are, but based on what we know about previous ladders constructed for those suspended, the degree of difficulty varies depending on the case at hand (see: AJ Allmendinger and Jeremy Mayfield in cases of substance abuse).
If he really wants to come back, he will, and Thursday he reiterated that he does. If someone really wants him to have a ride once he's reinstated, he'll have one.
But in the meantime, he is right where he needs to be. On the outside, hopefully learning how to break that pattern.