KURT BUSCH is off NASCAR's suspended list and he'll return to racing Sunday at Phoenix.
NASCAR lifted Busch's suspension yesterday after the Delaware attorney general decided last week not to charge the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, who was accused of domestic violence by Patricia Driscoll, his former girlfriend. Busch countered Driscoll's charges by calling her "a trained assassin." He also completed some of the steps in NASCAR's mandated recovery program.
"It's been a humbling experience, but it's made me more focused and determined," Busch said yesterday on a conference call. "I never did any of the things I was accused of. It was a complete fabrication."
According to NASCAR, Busch may return to racing under indefinite probation, subject to additional mandatory requirements that include participation in a treatment program and full compliance with any judicial requirements placed upon him.
NASCAR said Busch, 36, had complied with all requirements in its reinstatement program and completed the mandatory behavioral assessment sessions. The behavioral health-care expert who conducted the sessions recommended to NASCAR that Busch be allowed to return to competition.
Busch now will undergo additional steps to address the behavior for which he was penalized.
Ordinarily, a driver must compete in all championship events to be eligible for the Chase. That requirement was waived for the three-race period of Busch's suspension. Busch will have zero championship points to date. Should he win a race before the Chase, which starts in September, he likely will be qualify for the Chase.
"As we stated last week, the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges removed a significant impediment to Kurt Busch's return to full status as a NASCAR member," said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. "We therefore have decided to move him to indefinite probation and waive the Chase requirement. He has fully complied with our reinstatement program during his suspension and the health care expert who conducted his evaluation recommended his immediate return.
"We have made it very clear to Kurt Busch our expectations for him moving forward, which includes participation in a treatment program and full compliance with all judicial requirements as a result of his off-track behavior."
Busch said he is "appreciative of the process of the road to recovery. It's created such a good foundation to utilize moving forward that I wish I would have done it sooner."
Busch was fired from previous stays with Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing. During a conversation with NASCAR chairman Brian France, Busch said France told him not to change inside the car "[but] be a different person outside the car."
Filling in for Busch in the No. 41 Chevrolet, Regan Smith drove to two 16th-place finishes and one 17th-place.
The top 10 in points after three Sprint Cup races contains the usual contenders, except for the drivers in fourth (Martin Truex Jr.) and fifth (A.J. Allmendinger).
Both drive for single-car teams. In today's Sprint Cup world, with multi-car powerhouses, Truex and Allmendinger in the top 10 is comparable to a top amateur golfer winning a PGA Tour event. Allmendinger qualified for the Chase last year by winning at Watkins Glen, but was eliminated after the first three Chase events.
Off to his best career start, Truex, 34, has finished eighth, sixth and second in this year's races. The Mayetta, N.J., racer is in his second season driving for the No. 78 Chevrolet for the Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row team.
While Truex has settled in with his team, he's also dealt with his girlfriend Sherry Pollex and her battle with ovarian cancer. Truex told the Las Vegas Review-Journal she is clean of cancer. He said she has completed the aggressive portion of chemotherapy and will begin maintenance chemo once a month for a year. Sherry's situation has given Truex a new outlook on life.
"It puts a lot of things into perspective," Truex said after the Las Vegas race. "I think those bad days are not near as bad at the racetrack as you thought they were. When you get a glimpse of something that could possibly change your life like that in a bad way, it makes you look at things a lot differently.
"Suddenly those bad days at the racetrack weren't so bad. Suddenly they were OK, and I knew that if we just kept working hard, we could get through it all, and certainly I feel like we have now. But we're going to continue to work hard and try to get to that next level. We want to win races. We have a great team."
Truex acknowledged that last year was a struggle. He finished 24th in points with only one top-five finish. He led only one lap all season.
"Last year was there [were] days where it was just really hard to even think about racing, because it was so miserable," he said. "But I think at the end of the day, I'm proud of our guys for sticking behind me. I think that there was never a time where I quit on them.
"We worked hard all year long, and we definitely started to see some light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the season. We started to understand things. We had a plan at the end of the season of how we were going to go about doing this, trying to get this team turned around."
Truex describes his racing career as "a bumpy ride." He's a two-time Xfinity (then-Nationwide) series champion with Dale Earnhardt Inc. He qualified for the Chase twice, in 2007 and 2012, finishing 11th both times.
At Phoenix, the site of Sunday's Cup race, Truex has six top-10 finishes in 18 starts.
Camping World.com 500
Phoenix International Raceway
When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox/WNPV (1440-AM)
Course: 1-mile oval
Distance: 312 laps/500 kilometers
Forecast: sunny, upper 80s
Last year's winner: Kevin Harvick
Last year's pole: Brad Keselowski, 139.384 mph
Track qualifying record: Denny Hamlin, 142.113 mph (November 2014)
Track facts: Kevin Harvick's nickname used to be "Happy." Now, it should be "Hot." In his last six races (three last year, three this year) he has finished first or second (three wins). The last Cup driver with six consecutive 1-2 finishes is Jeff Gordon, in 1996. Harvick has won three in a row at Phoenix and four of the last five, giving him a series-leading six victories at the track. Jimmie Johnson is a four-time winner at Phoenix ... In winning last year's first race at Phoenix, Harvick led 224 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second, Brad Keselowski was third ... Meanwhile, Harvick's boss, Tony Stewart, has finished 42nd, 30th and 33rd in this season's races. Not what fans expect from a three-time Cup champion.
1. Kevin Harvick ... 134
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... 125
3. Joey Logano ... 123
4. Martin Truex Jr. ... 118
5. AJ Allmendinger ... 100
6. Kasey Kahne ... 92
7. Jimmie Johnson ... 91
8. Denny Hamlin ... 87
9. Casey Mears ... 87
10. Matt Kenseth ... 85
11. Greg Biffle ... 84
12. Ryan Newman ... 82
13. Paul Menard ... 82
14. Clint Bowyer ... 81
15. Aric Almirola ... 80
16. Brad Keselowski ... 77
17. David Gilliland ... 77
18. Sam Hornish Jr. ... 75
19. David Ragan ... 75
20. Danica Patrick ... 68
Up next: March 22, Auto Club 400, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif., 3:30 p.m.; TV: Fox; last year's winner: Kyle Busch.