By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR lifted its suspension of Kurt Busch on Wednesday and ruled the former champion can compete in the title Chase should he qualify.
Busch missed the first three races of the season when NASCAR suspended him for an alleged domestic assault on his ex-girlfriend. He was suspended two days before the season-opening Daytona 500, and lost two rounds of appeals the day before the race.
The Delaware attorney general last week declined to charge Busch for the September incident with Patricia Driscoll. Also last week, NASCAR said Busch was following a path to reinstatement.
NASCAR said Busch complied with all requirements of the program, but is under indefinite probation.
“We have made it very clear to Kurt Busch our expectations for him moving forward, which includes participation in a treatment program and full compliance with all judicial requirements as a result of his off-track behavior,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said when it became clear Busch would not be charged, it “removed a significant impediment” to his reinstatement.
“He has fully complied with our reinstatement program during his suspension and the health care expert who conducted his evaluation recommended his immediate return,” O’Donnell said.
Busch will return to his Stewart-Haas Racing team this weekend at Phoenix.
“We appreciate the steps Kurt Busch has made while following NASCAR’s process for reinstatement,” SHR general manager Joe Custer said. “He has taken this path seriously, which allowed him to return to our race team. With his reinstatement and the conclusion by the Delaware Attorney General to not file charges, our focus is on the future.”
Team co-owner Gene Haas had indicated on Sunday the team’s top concern was Busch’s championship eligibility.
The new Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format introduced last season gives drivers an automatic berth into the 16-driver field with a victory during the regular season. But, a driver must be ranked inside the top 30 in points to use that automatic berth.
Busch currently has no points in the No. 41 Chevrolet, a car Haas pays for out of pocket specifically for Busch.
Busch still must comply with guidelines set by Family Court Commissioner David Jones, who granted the no-contact order for Driscoll that led to his Feb. 20 suspension. Jones wrote in his opinion that he believed there’s real possibility Busch will lash out again and has a propensity to lose control in response to disappointing or frustrating situations involving racing.
Jones ordered Busch to be evaluated to see if there is a “treatable mental health condition.” He also said Busch must follow any suggested treatment plans.
Busch is appealing Jones’ ruling, and NASCAR will allow that to play out.
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