Team owner Gene Haas was happy to have Kurt Busch behind the wheel of the No. 41 Chevrolet again Sunday but remains troubled by some elements of Busch’s suspension.
“I was a little bit stunned I think by the fact that Kurt was pulled out several days before Daytona, which just seemed so incredulous to me,” Haas said after Busch finished fifth at Phoenix International Raceway in his first Sprint Cup start of the 2015 season. “Two days before the Daytona 500, to do that to a driver, just didn’t seem right.”
Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Feb. 20 when a Kent County (Del.) Family Court commissioner explained his reasons for issuing a protective order against Busch, who was accused of domestic abuse by an ex-girlfriend.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver had two appeals denied the day before the Daytona 500 and was replaced in the season opener by Regan Smith, who drove the No. 41 for three races.
NASCAR lifted Busch’s suspension March 11 after the Delaware County Department of Justice declined to pursue criminal charges against Busch, who had entered a program of treatment.
Haas said the Busch’s return was “a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, because now we know what to expect. In previous months it was just nothing but question marks. ‘What are you going to do? How is this going to unfold? ‘
“The only answer, you could say, ‘We have no idea, we can’t control any of this.’ We were as much in suspense as anybody.”
Haas was complimentary of how Busch’s case was handled by the sanctioning body.
“We appreciate what NASCAR did,” he said. “I think they did the right thing. … The way things unfolded, it worked out. We didn’t really lose too much time. Kurt now is back in the car. I think he’s razor focused. He appreciates that driving at this level is a privilege. It certainly isn’t anything he has a right to or any of us have a right to. It can go away. It can go away just as fast as a car can go away in a race. He has a great appreciation for that.
“I have to admit in the last week or so, it seems like things have reversed. I think Kurt has a much more focused attitude. Now he can get back to business. I think he’s really dedicated himself to winning a championship. So hopefully in the long run, when we look back on this we’ll look at it as a bump in the road on the way to winning another championship.”
In a prerace interview with Fox, Busch said he hadn’t handled many past situations well “but going to a step to actually hurt a woman or to hurt somebody, that’s not in my realm. That’s way beyond my reach.”