Bob Pockrass, SportingNews.com
Brian France promises tougher stance on domestic violence
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NASCAR Chairman Brian France pledged to be tougher on drivers involved in domestic assaults but said NASCAR will wait until at least a charge is filed before it reacts.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch is under investigation by the Dover (Del.) Police Department over allegations of domestic assault against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, who brought the allegations to the attention of police about six weeks after the altercation allegedly occurred.
The investigation has not been completed, and Busch has been allowed to race. Driscoll, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, alleges that Busch grabbed her by the face and smashed her head against the wall of his motorhome.
U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) sent a letter to NASCAR and SHR asking for Busch to be suspended for the season finale Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It's a very sensitive topic today, rightfully so,” France said during a press conference Friday. “And so not surprising that some members of Congress and other leaders might have some strong views on what we should and shouldn't do.
“We'll stay the course, let the investigation be completed, and then we'll react.”
Stewart-Haas Racing released a statement Friday in response to Speier's letter.
"The allegation made against Kurt Busch is one Stewart-Haas Racing and its partners take very seriously," SHR Executive Vice President Joe Custer said. "We have spoken to Kurt in depth regarding this matter and he has vehemently denied that it happened and assures us there is no truth to it whatsoever.
"We are monitoring this situation closely and will let the authorities continue with their thorough investigation. At this point in time we are taking Kurt at his word and his status with the team is unchanged."
In the past, NASCAR has not reacted to domestic abuse allegations against its drivers.
Last year, Travis Kvapil was charged with assault and false imprisonment in October after authorities said he pulled his wife by her hair and then struck her in the head as she attempted to pull away. He was allowed to continue racing for BK Racing.
In January 2014, Kvapil pleaded guilty as part of a deferred prosecution agreement where the charges would be dismissed if he successfully completes two years of probation. NASCAR did not take any action and Kvapil has competed in 21 races this year.
According to the NASCAR rulebook: “Correct and proper conduct, both on and off the racetrack, is part of a member’s responsibilities viewed, in context, with an understanding of the prominence of the sport, the large fan support that the sport attracts, and also with an understanding of the passion that the sport can evoke.” Penalties are issued on a case-by-case basis, according to the rulebook.
In the last year, domestic violence has been a huge issue in sports, including the suspensions of NFL players Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he mishandled the Rice case initially, and Speier called for his resignation earlier this year.
France indicated that NASCAR will not turn its head in the future when it comes to domestic violence.
“What's not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awareness on domestic abuse and violence, and so you can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that's not going to be tolerated,” France said.
“The past of how any league might have handled some of this is one thing. It's pretty clear when you see what's happening around the country and in some of the other leagues that our policy will reflect the significance and importance that it should.”
Speier leveled heavy criticism at NASCAR over its handling of the Busch allegations.
“NASCAR would rather let Mr. Busch drive for the remainder of the racing season than take a stance on violence against women,” Speier said in a news release. “While he rounds the track, the legal processes for his domestic violence charges race forward as well.
“Until his legal proceedings end, NASCAR should put Mr. Busch’s car in park. The charges are horrifying, and NASCAR’s inaction sends a clear signal to drivers that owners do not take these violent actions seriously.”
NASCAR plans to wait until charges are brought but also could be waiting until the legal process takes its course, which is NASCAR’s typical response when drivers face charges away from the track. The NASCAR season ends this weekend at Homestead and doesn't resume until mid-February at Daytona.
“If charges are filed, that will change our equation, and we will look at that,” France said. “As I said earlier on, we realize the heightened awareness of this important topic, and our policies will reflect that as we go (on), they'll reflect how serious it is.
“You know us well enough to know when we say that, we mean it, and we'll figure it out. But we ought to have a process that gets to the bottom of the facts before anybody does anything.”
Speier wants action before then, and alluded to Busch being suspended for one race in June 2012 for threatening a Sporting News reporter.
“How is it that NASCAR can take action when a reporter is threatened, and not when a woman is physically assaulted?” Speier said. “It calls into question the enforcement policies exercised by NASCAR and whether their code of conduct has a double standard. Do they only punish misconduct caught on camera?”