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Kurt Busch qualifies eighth in return

Kurt Busch returns to Sprint Cup series in Arizona after three-race suspension

The name stenciled in cursive letters on the No. 41 Chevrolet, just above the driver's window, no longer said "Outlaw." It had been replaced with "Kurt Busch."

Literally and figuratively, the name represented a fresh start for Busch, who returned to the Sprint Cup series Friday after being suspended by NASCAR for the first three races of the season.

After finishing 17th fastest in the opening practice session at Phoenix International Raceway, Busch then qualified eighth for Sunday's race on the one-mile oval.

After qualifying, Busch said he was "pleased with how I was able to get back in the seat and show some speed."

Kevin Harvick — the reigning Cup champion, last week's winner at Las Vegas and Busch's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing — predicted as much.

Busch ran well at the end of the 2014 season and "I think that you will see that car run well immediately this weekend," Harvick told reporters before practice.

Harvick, already the favorite to win Sunday, won the pole with a lap of 140.751 mph. He's the only six-time winner of Cup races here, including four of the last five and both races last year.

With his victory in Las Vegas, Harvick also has finished first or second in the last six Cup races.

Joey Logano, this year's Daytona 500 winner, qualified second for Sunday's race and Jamie McMurray was third.

After his practice session, Busch said "everything feels good — the seat, the belts and the love from the crew guys, it's been pretty cool."

"The garage feels like a fraternity and it's nice to see good friends," said Busch, 36, a former Cup champion. "That feeling was home."

NASCAR suspended Busch indefinitely on the eve of the season-opening Daytona 500 last month after a family court commissioner in Delaware found Busch "more likely than not" committed domestic violence against his former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

The commissioner's report was in support of a no-contact order he awarded Driscoll, who alleged she was physically abused by Busch during an incident in his motor home at Delaware's Dover International Speedway last Sept. 26. Busch denied the allegations.

Busch agreed to follow a set of recovery guidelines from NASCAR, which were not disclosed, to be reinstated. And after Delaware prosecutors said last week that they would not pursue criminal charges against Busch, NASCAR lifted the suspension.

"Everybody is just excited that we're able to just kind of put it all behind us," Harvick said of Busch, who won at Phoenix International in 2005 when he drove for a different team.

"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," Harvick said.

james.peltz@latimes.com

Twitter: @PeltzLATimes

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