By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – Kurt Busch’s win in Sunday’s rain-delayed Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway was exactly what he needed after his recent NASCAR suspension and legal issues.
Busch scored his 26th career win in the series, but it was perhaps the biggest victory of his career. He ran in front for 291 of 400 laps at Richmond. It’s the most laps he’s ever led in a Sprint Cup race.
The 36-year-old Busch had a momentous offseason when he was accused of domestic assault by his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll. A Delaware Family Court judge granted Driscoll a protective order against Busch. The judge later concluded in a written report that Busch more than likely not committed an act of domestic violence against Driscoll in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway last September.
That prompted NASCAR to place Busch on indefinite suspension two days before the Feb. 22 season-opening Daytona 500.
Busch, the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing and the 2004 Cup Series champion, missed the first three races of the season before NASCAR reinstated him on March 11. The Delaware Attorney General decided not to file any criminal charges against him. Busch also complied with all of NASCAR’s terms and conditions for reinstatement. He does remain on indefinite probation.
Regan Smith, a regular in the Xfinity Series, drove the No. 41 car in place of Busch at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
Busch has been on a tear since his return, finishing fifth in his March 15 season debut at Phoenix and then third in Fontana, California, after starting on the pole there one week later. He placed 14th at both Martinsville and Texas and 15th at Bristol before ending his 35-race winless streak at Richmond.
“For us the last few weeks, we’ve not given away wins, but we’ve made some small mistakes and we’ve had some things go against us that it made us stronger,” Busch said. “It really put a bond between all of us (on the No. 41 team) to go. The wins will come. We don’t need to force it, and let’s just settle in for the long run.
“Here we are, we’re winners in April. It feels good. Plenty of time to do fun things to build the team up, get stronger, learn from all these races coming up and continue to go forward. Like (SHR team co-owner) Gene Haas said, ‘One win is great. I want four or five more’.”
Busch joined SHR for the 2014 season when Tony Stewart (driver/co-owner) and Haas expanded their team to a four-car operation. Daniel Knost served as crew chief for Busch’s team last year, scoring one win (spring race at Martinsville), but SHR made personnel changes after the season concluded, placing Tony Gibson in the crew chief role for the No. 41.
During Busch’s suspension and legal problems, Haas and Gibson stood by their driver and believed in his innocence.
“I’m just so proud of Tony Gibson and the team and Gene Haas for believing in me, and now that we’ve got this win and we’re stamped in here, it just feels like, hey, now it’s business as usual,” Busch said.
Busch can now look forward to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, as he is virtually guaranteed a spot in the 10-race playoffs due to his Richmond win. Busch qualified for the Chase last year with his victory at Martinsville, but he was eliminated from title contention after the first round.
“To win early in the year is special, but you can’t hang your hat on it,” he said. “And last year what I can learn from that situation is developing a new team such as Daniel Knost and a newer group of guys, I felt the responsibility of being a mentor.
“This year, I feel the responsibility of being the driver and doing my duty because I know I’ve got the best guy on the box with Tony Gibson, the best lead engineer with Johnny Klausmeier, the best car chief, best front-end guy, rear-end guy, tire guy. Everybody on our team is at a top level, so I don’t have to do anything other than drive. That’s what Gene Haas wants me to do, and he’s not happy with one win. He wants multiple wins. Hopefully, we’ll be off and running.”