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Kurt Busch Out Of Appeals – And The 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 22 2015

Regan Smith will drive the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy in the 500 today. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Embattled NASCAR driver Kurt Busch lost a pair of appeal procedures Saturday stemming from his indefinite Sprint Cup Series suspension, ending the former champion’s bid to compete in Sunday’s season-opening 57th annual Daytona 500.

NASCAR slapped Busch with the indefinite suspension Friday afternoon in the aftermath of a Delaware family court’s finding earlier that “by a preponderance of the evidence” the 36-year-old driver had “committed an act of domestic violence” against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll on Sept. 24 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.

Busch has not been charged criminally. The Delaware Attorney General’s Office, which has overseen the case since early December, has not decided whether or not Busch will be charged.

Late Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla., Bryan Moss, the National Motorsports final appeals officer, heard and considered Busch’s appeal concerning Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; 12.8: Behavioral penalty as per the NASCAR Rulebook.

Earlier, NASCAR granted Busch an “expedited” appeal of his suspension, which was heard by a three-person panel consisting of Paul Brooks, Lyn St. James and Kevin Whitaker. Busch presented his position to the panel while NASCAR was represented by Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of racing operations.

“We are very disappointed that our appeal was rejected by NASCAR’s appeal panel,” Busch’s legal team said in a statement. “We are re-appealing immediately. We are confident that Kurt will be vindicated and he will be back racing.”

Upon hearing Saturday night’s testimony, Moss released the following decisions at 9:35 p.m. (EST): Busch violated the Rules set forth in the penalty notice and the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel was correct; the penalty was within scope of the guidelines and the original penalty levied by NASCAR was upheld.

Moss’ ruling is final and binding on all parties. Busch, the 2004 Cup champion while at Roush Fenway Racing, now has exhausted his appeal options under the NASCAR Rulebook and the indefinite suspension remains in effect. That said, he will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced it would not contest the suspension, naming Regan Smith to drive Busch’s No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS in Sunday’s “Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway. Following NASCAR’s announcement, Chevrolet also suspended its involvement with Busch.

Smith has previous history as an interim driver with SHR, as he subbed for team co-owner and three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Chevy last August at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. A 31-year-old native of Cato, N.Y., Smith was the 2008 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year and won the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. He is a fulltime driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and finished second in the 2014 championship standings.

SHR added that an interim driver for the No. 41 team at next weekend’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and subsequent races had not been determined.

Smith met with the media at DIS Saturday to discuss his unexpected Daytona 500 opportunity, learning the draft in the Cup car and team expectations for NASCAR’s so-called Super Bowl. An edited transcript follows:

Q. TONY STEWART SAID 10 DAYS AGO THERE WAS A CONTINGENCY PLAN. HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE CONTINGENCY PLAN ALL ALONG?

REGAN SMITH: I believe the team had a plan in place whenever that was. I spoke to somebody this past week at one point, and that was about the extent of what I knew what was going on. I’m kind of focused on what I had to do to get ready for our season on the other side (Xfinity Series) and really haven’t paid much attention otherwise. So, if I was, that’s a question for the team.

Q. THIS IS YOUR THIRD LAST-MINUTE SUB ROLE. HOW DIFFICULT IS THAT FOR YOU? OR, IS IT NOT DIFFICULT TO JUMP INTO A CAR COLD AND PERFORM?

REGAN SMITH: They all have their own different circumstances and scenarios. I think the fortunate thing is that I’ve done enough Cup races to where I’m familiar with most of the cars. They have changed a little bit over the years and obviously this rules package is a little bit different than what I had the majority of my experience in. But for a speedway, the fortunate thing is the drafting is similar from the Xfinity cars to the Cup cars, so that’s not a big adjustment. Last time, with it being a situation where we had 10 minutes to get a seat in and really had to go quick, that was a little bit trickier than the other two circumstances _ this one and when I substituted for Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) in the No. 88.

So, they all take their own kind of shape and form. You make the most of them. I don’t think anybody wants to be in the scenario where you have to sub under circumstances, whatever they may be. And with that said, if it happens, you want to make the most of that opportunity. And there are some guys, I don’t know how many, but we’ll say 200 employees because I don’t know how many Stewart-Haas has, but there are a lot of people that have had their hands on that race car and have worked hard on that race car and they deserve to still have the opportunity to go out there and win that race; and that’s what we’re going to try to do for them.

Q. IS IT DIFFICULT TO BE NOT TOTALLY CERTAIN WHETHER YOU WOULD BE FOCUSED ON ONE SERIES OR MORE HERE?

REGAN SMITH: Not really because I typically sit there and watch the Cup races and do whatever I would do to learn and understand for my races, for our Xfinity races. So I watch, whether it’s Cup or Truck or whatever it might be, I watch all of them when I’m not involved with them and just see if I pick anything up or learn anything to begin with. And I scan guys, different guys, to hear what the racetrack is doing and what the cars are doing and what the conditions are causing the cars to do.

Knowing that there were some things potentially going on, again, I can’t stress enough that I really have not paid much attention to any of it. I do have other stuff that I’m focusing on, on the other side. But knowing there was some stuff going on really didn’t affect me at all and it didn’t take away from any of my focus on that side. And throwing this in is not going to affect one way or the other, what I do in either car. The same goals exist. The same mission exists to go out and try to win. The biggest difference is I got an opportunity to hop in a race car that’s more than capable of winning the Daytona 500, and I want to make the most of that opportunity.

Q. YOUR WIFE IS DUE TO HAVE YOUR BABY IN TWO WEEKS. DID YOU CONSIDER NOT BEING THE SUBSTITUTE JUST IN CASE?

REGAN SMITH: We’ve had those discussions prior to this even happening about if it were to happen for one of the Xfinity races and our same mentality for the Xfinity races is going to carry over to Sunday. Obviously, it’s a big opportunity for me to be able to race that car. I’ve asked her to keep her legs crossed as long as she can if she does go into labor…and we’ll do what we can to make sure I get back as quick as I can if that happens.

Q. YOU’VE WON HERE, YOU CAME REALLY CLOSE TO WINNING AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ABLE TO HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY LIKE THIS TO AT LEAST SHOWCASE YOUR TALENT, BECAUSE ULTIMATELY YOU DO WANT TO GET BACK INTO SPRINT CUP ONE DAY?

REGAN SMITH: I would say anytime you have a chance to hop in a race car that you know is fast and know is more than capable of winning races, it’s always an opportunity to showcase talent, no matter where it is, no matter what the circumstances or situations are, you’ve got to always think that way and you’ve got to always be prepared that way. So, yeah, I think we have a shot to go out and win this race on Sunday. I absolutely think we do and I’m going to go out and do everything I can to make that happen. And if that helps maybe get me to a situation where we can sit here and talk about these things and have it be strictly because somebody hired me to drive their car, then that’s the goal to go prove to people that I need to be doing that on a fulltime basis for the right reasons.

Q. HAS ANY ONE FROM STEWART-HAAS TOLD YOU WHAT THEIR EXPECTATIONS ARE FOR YOU IN THE CAR? ALSO, WHAT WERE YOUR PLANS FOR SUNDAY BEFORE THIS ANNOUNCEMENT?

REGAN SMITH: I went to see Tony Gibson (crew chief, No. 41 Chevrolet SS) last night for just a little bit when everything was happening so we could talk about where they are at and how the week has gone so far, and however the last eight days has gone. He made it very clear that the goals and expectations are the same (for Sunday) as they were two days ago, or three days ago. They have a car capable of winning the race and that is what we are going to go out and try to do. That has all stayed the same, we’re fortunate; there is a fortunate side for us and me in particular is that I have nothing to lose in this race other than to go out and drive as hard as I can, and as fast as I can. Obviously, if it ruffles a few feathers, oh well! That’s how it is.

I was planning on watching the race on the couch just like anybody and whether it would be talking to folks through Twitter or whatever I would normally do to watch the 500. I was going to do that and enjoy the race at home. So, we’ll adjust those plans just a little bit. I’ll have a little bit better seat for the race.

Q. HAVE YOU HAD ANY CONVERSATIONS WITH KURT BUSCH? DO YOU PLAN TO HAVE ANY WITH KURT BUSCH?

REGAN SMITH: I have not spoken to Kurt and I don’t know if I will or won’t before everything gets done. Naturally since he’s been driving the car, just purely from a race car driver’s standpoint it would be beneficial to me to talk to him and say ‘Hey, what can I expect out of the car if I get in the middle of three-wide or if I get stuck on the high side on this part of the race track?’ If that opportunity presents, then obviously we’ll discuss that stuff. But outside of that, I haven’t spoken to him.

Q. WHO IS YOUR SPOTTER? HOW WILL THAT WORK? ANY OTHER INFORMATION THAT YOU NEED?

REGAN SMITH: The spotter situation is actually a really good one. Rick Carelli will be spotting the car, and I’ve worked with Rick for two years prior to me going to JR Motorsports. I have a good relationship with Rick. It will be seamless. I know what to expect. I know how he calls a race. I know how he describes things and the cars so that should be pretty seamless.

Q. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IN THE DAYTONA 500?

REGAN SMITH: I expect a different race than what we saw on Thursday (Duel 150-milers). I think with the temperatures we are talking, almost 50 degrees warmer on Sunday than what they raced on Thursday, or darn close to it _ we’ll call it 40 _ the cars are going to drive considerably different. The cars are going to have to handle better. Handling will play a factor in the race I think at some point. I don’t know without talking to them and seeing the situation on tires, if tires will play a huge factor into that yet. I know that no tires seemed like they did pretty good the other night, but also guys that took four tires seem like they had pretty good luck.

I would anticipate the cars that handle better will migrate to the front. Some of the guys that have not got their cars handling good that maybe had speed the other night will maybe struggle just a little bit more. Because of that, it will be a little bit more challenging for everybody.

Q. WHAT MAKES YOU SO GOOD AT THESE PLATE TRACKS, AND WHAT IS BIGGEST THING YOU HAVE TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH TO BE THAT COMPETITIVE?

REGAN SMITH: I wish I knew what has led to some success on the plate tracks. I guess there is just a certain level of comfort at this style of racing, and trying to out-think guys. I don’t mind when we have to race and kind of out-think each other. There’s always the element of something happening that’s out of your control whether it’s a plate race or not. I go into it with a little bit different mentality than the other guys do. I’ve always looked at it as these races you get the same amount of points for these races as you do for any of the other ones, so you might as well embrace them and look at them in a positive light and not worry about the stuff you can’t control. Maybe that plays a part of it. I don’t know.

The biggest thing I’m going to need Sunday is to learn the draft in these cars. There’s going to be some variables. Some different things to worry with the Cup car compared to the Xfinity car. It may take me 15-20 laps on Sunday to really understand where they jump sideways; where they don’t just sideways. I think a lot of the situational stuff of where cars are at around you is going to be very similar so that shouldn’t take any time to really adjust to or get used to.

But outside of that I anticipate it being relatively seamless and we’ll work on getting track position all day. I think we have to go to the back (prior to the green flag). I don’t know that for sure, but I’m pretty sure. So with that being said, we’ll have the opportunity to work on track position to try and help us get up and get where we need to be.

Q. WHAT IS THE FAMILIARITY AND TIMETABLE GETTING INTO A NEW CAR?

REGAN SMITH: I was in one of the Stewart-Haas cars last year so there is an element of that that helps with that process; helps me get more familiar a little bit quicker. I don’t know from team-to-team where they are inside. But generally speaking the switches are always in a relatively similar location unless a driver wants something completely different for whatever reason.

There are little things I still may have to look at twice if I’m flipping on a blower fan, or a radiator fan or something like that I may have to look twice. But I’ve already sat in the car. I have already seen generally where all that stuff is. I will push that to the back of my memory bank for just a little bit and think about that tonight. I’ll worry about all that stuff tonight. But it shouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Q. YOU SAID YOU HAVEN’T SPOKEN TO KURT, BUT IS IT YOUR SENSE HE WILL COOPERATE WITH YOU?

REGAN SMITH: I would answer that by saying that he is the leader of this team. He is the driver of the No. 41 car. With that said I would anticipate that he would want to definitely help out in any way that he can. I don’t know what his time constraints or anything like that are right now. If the opportunity presents to chat about race cars, then we’ll chat about race cars.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 22 2015
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • John Sturbin says:

    Darren: It appears NASCAR management has chosen to “get ahead of the story” with Kurt Busch in a manner that the NFL and Roger Goodell did not in the domestic abuse issue involving running back Ray Rice. Of course, there was video footage of Rice physically abusing his fiancee/now wife in a casino elevator, which made the NFL’s initial ruling all the more puzzling.
    Next move belongs to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
    But given Kurt’s star-crossed career, the self-described “Outlaw” could be out of the sport for a long, long time.

  • Darren says:

    I like Regan Smith but I won’t get to watch him race. When NASCAR suspended Kurt with no conviction or proof of an offense they suspended me as well. I’m not watching any races. The tickets I have for next weekend in Atlanta will remain unused. I will speak with my wallet and feet. I will not be part of anything that forces me as a fan to accept politically correct liberal nonsense as proper management. If Kurt had been shown in a criminal court to have done what his girlfriend accused then I would still be watching. As it is NASCAR has suspended me before the first race.