Following a three-week suspension, Kurt Busch returned to the NASCAR garage Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Back behind the wheel of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet, Busch was 17th-fastest in the opening practice. Friday marked the first time he's turned a lap since NASCAR indefinitely suspended him Feb. 20, two days prior to the Daytona 500. He was reinstated Wednesday.
"It was good just to get back in the seat and shake hands with all the guys," Busch said. "Having the support of Stewart-Haas, it's been like family. Then to see the other crew members that I know and some that I don't know who shake my hand and say, ‘Welcome back.' It feels good."
The feeling of pulling on his driving gloves, Busch described as "home."
"Everything feels good," he said. "The seat, the belts and just the love from the crew guys, it's been pretty cool the way the garage feels like a fraternity. It's nice to see good friends."
One noticeable difference was the removal of Busch's "Outlaw" nickname that had previously been above his door. In its place is Busch's signature in white lettering.
NASCAR banned Busch following a Delaware Family Court commissioner ruling he more than likely committed an act of domestic violence against ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll in an incident that occurred inside Busch's motor home on Sept. 26.
Driscoll alleges Busch grabbed her by the throat and slammed her head three times against a wall in his bedroom. Busch denied any wrongdoing throughout the family court proceedings, but testified to "cupping" Driscoll's face, but never physically assaulting her.
On March 5, the Delaware Attorney General's Office announced Busch would not be criminally charged. After Busch completed certain terms and conditions set forth by the sanctioning body, NASCAR rescinded its suspension one week later.
The return of the 2004 Cup Series champion was welcomed by those within SHR, which also fields cars for Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick. The teams of Harvick, who won a week ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Busch are closely aligned with their respective cars constructed side-by-side at SHR's headquarters.
"I think everybody is just excited that we're able to just kind of put it all behind us," Harvick said. "I don't really know much about it other than it seems like it's on its way to being over. And to have Kurt back in the car is an asset to everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and from a performance side; and everything that he does inside that race car is a benefit to us. So, we're definitely looking forward to just worrying about racing the car."
During Busch's absence, Regan Smith filled in and posted a best finish of 16th (twice). Busch is still eligible to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup having been granted a waiver by NASCAR. To earn a spot, he must win one of 23 remaining regular season races and finish no worse than 30th in points.
As for his reputation and how he may be perceived within the garage and by fans, Busch preferred to keep the focus on racing.
"We are here to race," Busch said. "That is all we are here to do."