Craig Murto: Plenty of drama at Daytona


NASCAR’s Daytona 500 weekend was eventful, on and off the racetrack.

The off-track drama almost eclipsed coverage of the racing itself. When a Delaware Family Court judge ruled that it was “more likely than not” that Kurt Busch committed an act of domestic violence against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and granted Driscoll’s protective order, Busch was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR, and Chevrolet broke all ties with the controversial driver.

Busch is a known hothead. It’s not a stretch to believe Busch lost his temper, especially when (according to testimony) Driscoll reportedly refused to leave his motor home. And honestly, Busch has had more than enough chances in NASCAR; it’s not a right to be in the sport, it’s a privilege, and Busch was fired from both Roush and Penske for not knowing how to behave.

Obviously NASCAR is reacting in a post-Ray Rice era. Travis Kvapil is still racing, and he pleaded guilty to domestic charges in January 2014 and received two years’ probation from the court. NASCAR did nothing. But that was before video of Rice slugging his wife in an elevator surfaced, and before the issue of domestic abuse by athletes became front page news. We’ll see whether the sanction remains consistent from here on out.

Nobody condones domestic violence, but Kurt Busch has yet to be charged with a crime, let alone convicted. It’s understandable that NASCAR wants to stay ahead of the curve in this post-Rice era, but is it the right time for this action? Should they wait until an actual crime is formally charged? Or is the evidence presented in family court enough to indicate “actions detrimental to the sport,” and enough to keep a known bad boy off the track?

And now younger brother Kyle Busch also is off the track after receiving a compound fracture of the right leg and a broken left foot in the Xfinity series race. Busch’s car struck an inside wall unprotected with a SAFER barrier.

To NASCAR’s credit they reacted swiftly and made sure that all inside, unprotected walls had tire barriers in place for the following day’s Daytona 500. But given the incredible amount of money they’re spending to refurbish the facility, it’s unacceptable that SAFER barriers weren’t a priority. The track claims they’ll be in place for the July race; they need to be in place at every facility that hosts a Cup race.

Daytona hosted the Camping World Truck Series on Friday, and Tyler Reddick grabbed the win, his first. On Saturday, Roush driver Ryan Reed grabbed his first win in the Xfinity Series. It was the first time a Jack Roush-owned car won a race in the series at Daytona.

Then we have Joey Logano’s win in the Daytona 500.

It was Logano’s first Daytona 500 victory, and second for car owner Roger Penske, who won in 2008 with Ryan Newman. The win, Logano’s ninth, came in his 220th start. As long as he stays in the top 30 in points and makes all the races, he’s secured a spot in the 2015 Chase.

Logano is 24 years old, and has been in the Cup series since he was 18, when he was tasked to replace Tony Stewart. He wasn’t ready. And his crew chief at the time, Greg Zipadelli, obviously didn’t know how to communicate with a driver who wasn’t ready and nurture him along. The result was only a couple of wins and nothing better than 17th in points. Eventually Logano was released by Joe Gibbs Racing.

But Roger Penske, at Brad Keselowski’s urging, gave Logano a ride. Logano won a race the first year, and last year won five races and finished fourth in points after contending for the title. Since Logano was 12, Mark Martin has claimed he has more talent than anyone he’s ever seen. And like Brian Vickers and Trevor Bayne, Logano bested many legends of short track racing in the old Hooters Pro Cup series before moving into NASCAR.

When Gibbs signed Logano, they thought he was going to be the franchise. It’s obvious now that they brought him up into the Cup ranks too soon, and didn’t do enough to support their driver when he needed it most. Now Joey Logano is the one Gibbs let get away.

It was an eventful weekend at Daytona. One Busch suspended indefinitely, and one out with injury. Plus we saw the emergence of a superstar, finally reaching his potential.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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