Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch have both been ruled out of NASCAR competition for an indefinite period, albeit for very different reasons.
Kurt Busch went through two unsuccessful rounds of appeal on Saturday against a suspension from the sanctioning body over allegations of domestic abuse, while his younger brother Kyle suffered a violent accident during the first race of the new Xfinity Series that left him with injuries requiring surgery overnight.
Kyle was caught up in an accident on lap 93 of Saturday afternoon's race. His car was sent into a brutal impact with the inside wall at an awkward angle, and at a point where the wall was not covered by an impact-absorbing SAFER barrier.
Busch initially tried to climb out of the car as track officials doused it with fire extinguishers, but then called for assistance when he had problems extracting his right leg. Kyle's spotter also reported that the driver had complained over the team radio of some back and neck pain. Busch was helped out of the wrecked car and subsequently placed on a stretcher with his leg in a protective air brace, before being carried to an ambulance which took him direct to Halifax Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.
A subsequent press release from his race team Joe Gibbs Racing said that Busch had suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg, and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. He underwent successful surgery to repair the leg fracture on Saturday night and was reported to be resting comfortably. Busch will now remain in the hospital for further observation.
His wife Samantha - who is expecting the couple's first child in May - was with him at the hospital, and tweeted afterwards: "In the recovery room with Kyle he's alert n chatting. Surgery went well. We thank you all for the support, prayers and love during this time."
It's not known for how long Kyle will now be out of competition. Ironically, he had only just recovered from elective surgery for inflammation over the off-season to the now broken-again left foot. Fellow Cup driver Tony Stewart was ruled out for six months following a serious double compound fracture to his leg in a non-NASCAR regional racing event in 2013 which required multiple surgeries to repair with one more still to come later in 2015, but it's not yet known how Busch's injury compares to Stewart's or what his own prognosis will be.
"Busch's injuries will sideline him for an undetermined period of time," confirmed the JGR statement. "Veteran Matt Crafton will serve as the interim driver for Busch's #18 Toyota during Sunday's 57th Daytona 500. An interim driver has not been determined for the following race March 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, or for any future races."
Kyle had qualified the car in fourth place for today's opening race of the Sprint Cup Series, but Crafton - the reigning Camping World Truck Series champion - will have to start the Daytona 500 from the back as a result of the driver change.
As news about Kyle's injury came in, other NASCAR drivers were critical of Daytona International Speedway for not having SAFER barriers installed at the point where he had crashed. "It's beyond me why we don't have soft walls everywhere," tweeted six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
"All we do is wreck at Daytona and that massive wall has no safer barrier?" said Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team mate Kasey Kahne. "Unbelievable! Hope Kyle is ok."
"I'm genuinely furious right now," added Regan Smith, who had himself been involved in a big wreck in Saturday's race which had seen his race car sent rolling onto its roof but who escaped any significant injury. "Any wall in any of the top 3 series without safer barriers is INEXCUSABLE. It's 2015."
"These drivers deserve safer barriers everywhere," tweeted former Cup driver Jeff Burton, who now works as a television race commentator. "It's very expensive but we have to find a way."
Two years ago, Kyle's JGR team mate Denny Hamlin suffered a broken back after a head-on impact with an unprotected wall at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California which caused him to miss several races. The track later added SAFER barriers to the wall where he took the hit.
This time the authorities were even quicker to respond, with Daytona track president Joie Chitwood III immediately stating his commitment to upgrading the safety facilities at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
"Obviously the first thing is that our thoughts and prayers go to Kyle," he said. "Last thing we want to see is a competitor injured here at the Daytona International Speedway. Our thoughts and prayers go to him.
"The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today. We should have had a SAFER barrier there today, we did not. We're going to fix that. We're going to fix that right now.
"We've got the team out tonight," Chitwood continued. "We're going to install tyre packs along that 850-foot linear square feet of wall [where Busch hit] so we're ready to go racing tomorrow. Following that, the Daytona International Speedway is going to install SAFER barrier on every inch at this property. This is not going to happen again. We're going to live up to our responsibility. We're going to fix this and it starts right now."
"As Joie said, from our perspective, what happened tonight should not have happened," echoed NASCAR's executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell. "That's on us. We're going to fix it. We're going to fix it immediately.
"I think we all know that racing is an inherently dangerous sport, but our priority is safety and we'll continue to put things in place that make this sport as safe as possible," said O'Donnell, adding that safety upgrades would not be limited to just Daytona.
"We always have those conversations with [other] racetracks," he said. "The racetracks know that and work together with us on the SAFER barrier recommendations. What we've said here tonight is we will accelerate those talks with the tracks. We want this sport to be as safe as possible for not only our drivers, but everyone who participates in the sport and the race fans as well."
While a significant factor in improving safety for drivers involved in accidents, the protective safety foam SAFER barriers are also expensive to install and maintain, especially at the largest race facilities like Daytona. However, Chitwood acknowledged that money could no longer be a reason not to instal them in the wake of Kyle's serious accident this weekend.
"We really can't look at financials as a reason for this. We have to have a venue which we can put on NASCAR racing and have competitors be safe," he agreed. "We've put in SAFER barriers over a number of years [but] come Monday, we're going to start the plan so we can put SAFER barrier everywhere here. Finances don't come into play. That's really not a question. We're going to get this fixed and be sure we're ready for the next event here."
Even as Kyle was on his way to hospital, his brother Kurt was meanwhile commencing his final appeal against an indefinite suspension from competition announced by NASCAR on Friday night. The suspension followed the ruling and findings of a family court in Kent County, Delaware regarding a protection order against Busch requested by his ex-partner Patricia Driscoll over allegations of domestic abuse in Kurt's trailer at Dover International Speedway last September.
The civil proceedings found that "it is more likely than not" that Kurt Busch had "committed an act of abuse" against Driscoll and ordered him to stay at least 100 yards away from her at all times. The order forbade him to buy firearms or ammunition and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for "mental health problems related to anger control and impulse control." Family Court Commissioner David Jones further determined that "his 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."
NASCAR had initially said that it would await the still-to-be-announced outcome of the criminal investigation into the incident by Dover Police and whether or not the state district attorneys' office pressed formal charges. However the findings of the family court were viewed as so damning that the sanctioning body felt it had no choice but to suspend Kurt Busch from all competition indefinitely and with immediate effect. Regan Smith will now drive the #41 car in the Daytona 500 in Kurt's absence.
NASCAR's rules allow for a two-stage appeal by the driver, both of which were expedited and held on Saturday. The first began at midday and was heard by a three-man panel consisting of former NASCAR senior vice president Paul Brooks, retired driver Lyn St James, and Greenville Pickens Speedway owner Kevin Whittaker. Busch represented himself as no lawyers were allowed, while NASCAR's case was presented by Jim Cassidy, senior vice-president of racing operations.
That appeal "decided that the Appellant violated the rules set forth in the penalty notice. The Panel therefore decided to uphold the original penalty assessed by NASCAR," forcing Busch to move to his last appeal option with a hearing in front of the sport's Final Appeals Officer, Bryan Moss, which was held at the International Motorsports Center in Daytona Beach, Florida on Saturday evening beginning around 7.30pm.
That hearing also lasted nearly three hours, before Moss decided in favour of NASCAR and against Busch. An official statement confirmed that "the appellant violated the Rules set forth in the penalty notice and the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel was correct; the penalty was within the scope of the guidelines; [and that] the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer upholds the original penalty levied by NASCAR.
"The decision of the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer is final and binding on all parties," the statement concluded. "Kurt Busch now has exhausted his appeal options under the NASCAR Rulebook, and the indefinite suspension remains in effect. He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice."
NASCAR vice president of integrated marketing communications David Higdon said that the suspension represented the sanctioning body's official view of the Dover incident and was irrespective of whether or not the Delaware attorney general now subsequently decides to formally charge Busch with any crime. Higdon added that Busch will now have to go through a series of specific steps still to be determined by NASCAR before he can be considered for reinstatement in the future.
Busch did not comment on the outcome, but his lead attorney Rusty Hardin made a short statement after the suspension was upheld saying that they would now continue with their legal efforts to overturn the protection order.
"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 Hardin. "Along the way we intend to continue to call attention to the facts and witnesses that will shed light on Ms Driscoll's true character, motivations and history."
As a result of a calamitous 36 hours for the Busch family, Sunday's Daytona 500 will now be the first time since November 2001 that neither of the brothers has taken the green flag for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.