DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. » A final appeals officer upheld NASCAR’s suspension of Kurt Busch.
Gulfstream President Bryan Moss made the decision Saturday night, ending Busch’s already-slim hopes of racing Sunday in the season-opening Daytona 500. He remains suspended indefinitely.
"We are unhappy with the latest decision to deny our re-appeal, but we will continue to exhaust every procedural and legal remedy we have available to us until Kurt Busch is vindicated," said Busch’s attorney, Rusty Hardin. "Along the way we intend to continue to call attention to the facts and witnesses that will shed light on Ms. (Patricia) Driscoll’s true character, motivations and history."
The decision means both Busch brothers are out of the "Great American Race" for the first time since 2000. Younger brother Kyle was ruled out with a broken right leg and broken left foot sustained in a harrowing crash Saturday in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.
Kurt Busch was suspended indefinitely Friday after a Delaware judge said the 2004 champion almost surely choked and beat his former girlfriend, Driscoll, last fall at Dover International Speedway.
A three-judge panel denied his first appeal Saturday. He had one final chance to plead his case to Moss, who is in his first year as NASCAR’S final appeals officer.
Regan Smith will replace Kurt Busch in the No. 41 Chevrolet on Sunday.
Chevrolet suspended its relationship with Busch shortly after the suspension.
Busch represented himself in the first appeals hearing at NASCAR headquarters, located across the street from Daytona International Speedway. Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of racing operations, represented NASCAR. The panelists were former NASCAR executive Paul Brooks, former driver Lyn St. James and Kevin Whitaker, operator of Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.
Following the first hearing, Busch exited NASCAR’s office building without comment. He climbed into a waiting SUV that sped off, squealing its tires.
He returned a few hours later for another plea.
Kyle, meanwhile, was hospitalized at nearby Halifax Health. He was hurt when his car slammed head-on into an interior wall that did not have an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier. He was only able to climb halfway through his window and was pointing to his legs when rescue personnel arrived.
Joe Gibbs Racing replaced Kyle for the 500 with two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton in the No. 18 Toyota.
Kurt has been front and center since arriving at Daytona on Feb. 12.
A judge granted Driscoll’s request for the no-contact order Monday, and three days later, Busch’s legal team asked for an appeal on the grounds it had new evidence to present.
Kurt has maintained he did not assault Driscoll, but merely cupped her face as he requested her to leave his motorhome.
But the judge saw things differently, and NASCAR suspended Busch. It was the third suspension of the 36-year-old driver’s career.
It’s unclear what SHR will do beyond Daytona. Busch’s car is funded out of pocket by team co-owner Gene Haas, who hand-picked the former champion to drive a car adorned with Haas’ machine tools building company. He wanted Busch because he believed Busch could get the car to victory lane.
Haas has not commented since the Friday suspension, and he may not be willing to pay for the car if Busch is not behind the wheel.
"We haven’t spoken about anything beyond that," SHR executive vice president Brett Frood said.
Smith drove co-owner Tony Stewart’s No. 14 car last season at Watkins Glen after Stewart hit and killed a fellow driver who got out of his car in a short-track race. Smith, who has one Cup victory, also filled in two races in 2012 while Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from a concussion.
"He’s a good fit, he’s in the family and he’ll get us through this week," SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said. "It’s a shame we are going through this, but it’s what we are dealt. We’ll make the best of it and see where it goes from here."