DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR suspended Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch indefinitely Friday, two days before the Daytona 500, for actions detrimental to stock car racing after a judge ruled he almost surely choked and beat a former girlfriend last fall.
Earlier Friday it was ruled that Busch smashed his ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll's head against his motor home wall Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway, according to the conclusions of a Kent County (Del.) family court commissioner who granted Driscoll's request for a protective order Monday.
"Given the serious nature of the findings and conclusions made by the Commissioner of the Family Court of the State of Delaware, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch, effective immediately," NASCAR said in a statement. "He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice.
"Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are fully aware of our position and why this decision was made. We will continue to respect the process and timetable of the authorities involved."
Busch on Friday night filed paperwork for an appeal on his suspension, which will be heard at noon ET Saturday in Daytona, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said.
"We are extremely disappointed that NASCAR has suspended Kurt Busch," Busch's attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement Friday afternoon. "We assure everyone, including NASCAR, that this action against Mr. Busch will turn out to be a travesty of justice, apparent to all, as this story continues to unfold."
Hardin, who cannot represent Busch in the NASCAR appeal because the appeal process does not allow for lawyers to represent NASCAR members, reiterated his hope that the family court commissioner reconsiders his opinion based on additional evidence that would show Driscoll is not credible.
"It is important for everyone to remember that the commissioner's report has to do with a civil, family law matter and no criminal charges have been filed against Mr. Busch," Hardin said. "We ask everyone's patience as this case continues in the court of law and are confident that when the truth is known Mr. Busch will be fully vindicated and back in the driver's seat."
NASCAR appeals are heard by a three-member panel selected from a list of former drivers, racing promoters and racing executives in the NASCAR rule book.
During the appeal, NASCAR will present its evidence, Busch will make his argument and then they both are permitted opportunities for rebuttal. Both sides can bring witnesses but not legal counsel, and the panelists can summon any NASCAR member from whom they want to hear.
If Busch loses the appeal, he can make one last appeal to former Gulfstream president Bryan Moss, NASCAR's final appeals officer. NASCAR chairman Brian France also has the ability to lift the suspension at any time.
It wasn't immediately clear if Busch wins his appeal whether he could still drive for SHR, which gets a significant amount of financial support from Chevrolet.
In her statement, Driscoll said she did not consider this a "victory."
"For victims of domestic violence there are no victories," she said. "My only hope is that the pain and trauma I suffered through this process will help other victims find their voice.
"Unfortunately we live in a culture where stories like mine are often swept under the rug out of fear and with the knowledge that for every person who shows empathy many more will seek to disparage the victim. It is bad enough to endure the actual physical abuse, but the verbal attacks that follow when a victim speaks up are sometimes just as painful."
NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell did not take questions from the media during Friday's brief news conference.
"As we stated last year, NASCAR fully recognized the serious nature of the specific situation involving Kurt Busch and really the broader issue of domestic violence. Based on our review of the available details, including the court's findings that were released earlier today, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch."NASCAR executive VP Steve O'Donnell
"As we stated last year, NASCAR fully recognized the serious nature of the specific situation involving Kurt Busch and really the broader issue of domestic violence," O'Donnell said. "Based on our review of the available details, including the court's findings that were released earlier today, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch."
O'Donnell, who resigned his spot on the board of Driscoll's Armed Forces Foundation late last year, disputed comments from Driscoll that indicated that other women in the NASCAR industry have been abused by others in the NASCAR community.
"NASCAR has made it very clear to our entire membership and the broader industry that any actions of abuse will not be tolerated in the industry," O'Donnell said. "We want to make it clear that any inference that there is a culture or tolerance for this type of behavior is patently false."
Busch will be replaced for the Daytona 500 by 31-year-old Regan Smith, who has one win in 172 career starts and competes full time in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. Smith replaced SHR driver/co-owner Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen last August, the day after Stewart's sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Smith will be able to practice during the 85-minute Sprint Cup practice session Saturday. Although Busch would have started 24th Sunday, Smith will have to move to the rear of the field at the start of the Daytona 500 because of the driver change.
SHR, in a news release, said that it has not determined who will drive the car beyond Daytona.
"We understand NASCAR's position regarding Kurt Busch and accept their decision," Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer said in a statement.
Chevrolet was quick to suspend ties with Busch following NASCAR's announcement.
"Chevrolet has suspended its relationship with Kurt Busch indefinitely," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of Motorsports and Performance Vehicles in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the events surrounding Mr. Busch and are prepared to take additional action if necessary."
Busch is the first driver suspended by NASCAR for domestic violence. Travis Kvapil, who qualified second for Friday night's Truck Series race, was arrested and charged with assault of his wife in 2013. NASCAR took no action against Kvapil.
A short time after the suspension was announced, on the glass outside of Busch's garage stall at Daytona, someone had scrawled in black marker "#41 Ray Rice," a reference to the former Baltimore Ravens running back whose own case of domestic violence dominated much of last year. Busch drives the No. 41 Chevrolet.
It is Busch's third career suspension. He was suspended in 2012 by NASCAR for threatening a reporter, and parked for the final two races of the 2005 season by Roush-Fenway Racing after he was pulled over by police in Arizona.
"The Court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that, on September 26, 2014, Respondent [Busch] committed an act of domestic violence against Petitioner [Driscoll] by manually strangling her by placing his left hand on her throat, while placing his right hand on her chin and face and smashing her head into the wall of his motor home," commissioner David Jones wrote in his findings and conclusions.
As part of his decision, Jones will require Busch "to be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional" and complete any further steps for treatment that person recommends. Jones wrote that he would not require Busch to enter into a "batterer's intervention program," because in his opinion, Busch did not profile as a habitual "power and control batterer." Jones characterized the incident of domestic violence as "likely situational in nature."
Busch claims Driscoll entered his motor home uninvited -- the couple had broken up a week earlier -- and he cupped her face with his hands while repeatedly asking her to leave.
In his opinion released Friday, Jones wrote that Driscoll's version of the events that night was more credible, citing, among other things, her demeanor when she recalled and described the events of that night.
"[Busch's] version of the events is implausible, does not make sense and is unlikely to be true given the totality of the other evidence admitted at trial," Jones wrote.
Busch has asked Jones to reconsider the ruling, and Jones has still not decided whether to reopen the case.
"We are confident that if the Commissioner agrees to hear newly available evidence that contradicts the testimony of Ms. Driscoll, he will be able understand the actions of that night as well as Ms. Driscoll's character and motivations and reconsider his judgment" Hardin said in Friday's statement. "He has already found that Ms. Driscoll lied under oath at least once. Our newly available evidence will make it clear that much more of her testimony was untruthful and was purposefully kept from the Commissioner by Ms. Driscoll's attempts to intimidate and threaten witnesses."
Busch told ESPN.com on Wednesday that he was "focused on racing" and declined further comment.
"It's a matter of just knowing that the truth has been told, and we'll see how things unfold," Busch said Feb. 12, the day before practice began at Daytona.
Both sides tried to shed doubt and attacked each other's credibility during the family court hearing, which at times took bizarre turns.
Driscoll characterized Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, as battling alcoholism and depression leading up to the alleged assault. Busch testified he was afraid of Driscoll, whom he believed was a trained assassin because of the stories and photos she had shared with him.
"The assertion that [Busch] would be chastened from assaulting [Driscoll] for fear of the possibility of physical injury is further discredited, in the Court's view, by the fact that [Busch] makes his living risking his life on an almost daily basis by aggressively driving a race car at speeds often approaching 200 miles per hour in close contact with others driving in the same manner, at the same speed," Jones wrote.
Busch opted to get his side of the story out in court over two days of Delaware family court hearings in December and two more days in January.
Busch is basing his request for reconsideration on the protective order on new evidence his attorneys claim shed more doubt on Driscoll's claims and reinforce their argument that Driscoll is a spurned lover looking to ruin the NASCAR driver's career. Included in that evidence, according to the motion for reconsideration, is Beverly Young, whom Driscoll considers her mother although they are not biologically related, stating that she did not believe Driscoll's claims.
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion, has 25 career wins but only one since 2011. It came last year, his first season with SHR, the team that helped resurrect his career.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.