Column: Busch's victory shows attempt to change as a person
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kurt Busch's win at Richmond International Raceway would only be considered redemption if anyone had ever questioned his driving ability.
But for all the speed bumps and setbacks in his career, Busch's talent has never suffered. And not a single competitor has ever suggested that he's not the ultimate wheelman.
So it was easy Sunday to get caught up in the personal satisfaction Busch showed in winning at Richmond. NASCAR's 2004 champion has been fighting for four years to rebuild his career, and the Richmond win was proof once again that Busch always seems to find a way to rebound from all those self-inflicted wounds.
This time it was an allegation of assault by an ex-girlfriend, who accused Busch of being suicidal when she rushed to his side last September in his motorhome at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.
Patricia Driscoll claimed Busch assaulted her that night, and she ultimately asked that he be charged with a crime. What followed was two months of headline-grabbing drama as Busch fought Driscoll's request for a no-contact order.
Many of his flaws were exposed over four days of tawdry testimony during NASCAR's offseason. When it was finally time for Busch to go back to work and seek solace in his race car, a Delaware judge granted Driscoll's request and ruled Busch likely had assaulted her.
NASCAR moved swiftly in suspending Busch two days before the season-opening Daytona 500, and his time on the sidelines covered the first three races of the year. Busch was reinstated only after the Delaware attorney general declined to press charges and NASCAR said he'd sufficiently completed a program that cleared his return to competition.
Busch has certainly presented himself as a humbled man in the six weeks since his return. He has not been argumentative in public, he has maintained his composure when faced with adversity on the race track and he seems to be putting forth an effort not to do anything that could call his character into question.
In the meantime, he's been spectacular on the race track.
Since his fifth-place finish at Phoenix in his return, Busch has led laps in every race and contended for the win each week. He won two poles, probably would have won at California until late debris cautions interfered and finally got the win Sunday that will qualify him to race in NASCAR's championship playoffs.
The last six weeks have shown nothing short of the driver Gene Haas hand-picked to drive a new fourth car he funds out of his own pocket. Haas knew he was bringing in a volatile driver with a history of making enemies, but he also knew Stewart-Haas Racing was getting one of the top talents in NASCAR.
The question that never went away was: When was Busch going to self-destruct?
The wheels began to fall off long before that night with Driscoll at his motorhome. Busch's performance tailed off late last summer and, as the reality set in that he was not a legitimate title contender, his fuse grew shorter and shorter.
He was ultimately eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship on the same weekend Driscoll alleges the assault occurred.
Busch has steadfastly maintained his innocence, but that time out of the car at the start of the season had to make him think: What was it that he was doing to constantly find himself in all these ugly incidents?
He has clearly been on a mission to prove something since his reinstatement, but that can only be done off the track. Busch himself noted after Sunday's win that it was never difficult during this latest controversy for him to separate his personal life from his professional life, and that he was ''standing on the truth the whole time.
''That gave me the feeling of when I do get back to the car, it's going to be easy to focus, and I think I've shown that,'' he said.
Yes, he certainly has. The win showed he is the driver everyone knew he was, and in that post-race celebration, it might have also shown the person he's trying to become.
''Victory lane is victory lane - I was standing there, the confetti is flying, they gave us the Champagne bottles ... it doesn't change,'' he said. ''As I'm older, I can appreciate it more because of the time and effort that it takes to assemble a good group of guys. That's where I recognize what now I might have took for granted.''