Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch will become the latest NASCAR star on the free agent market.
Stewart-Haas Racing informed the No. 41 Ford driver that it wouldn’t be picking up his option for next season, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told NBC Sports. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
The team had until midnight today to pick up the option after which Busch would be permitted to negotiate with other teams about a ride for 2018. It also is possible Busch still could return to Stewart-Haas Racing by signing a new contract.
The team still is awaiting word on the status of Monster, which has been a primary sponsor on Busch’s car the past two seasons. The energy drink company is weighing its future as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series (it must decide by this year whether to pick up a two-year option for 2019-20) and as a team sponsor.
“I don’t have any worries,’’ Busch said June 29. “I know that I deliver for the team. Our performance level is one that shouldn’t be in question, winning the Daytona 500 is special, but performing week in and week out, the deliverables that I bring sponsorship-wise that comes into play.
“I know that they’re working with NASCAR, Monster Energy is trying to sort out issues with NASCAR … so there are a lot of moving parts, but I don’t feel any fear whatsoever. I actually feel very confident in the sponsorship that I bring, Ford Performance’s involvement with Stewart-Haas and how I’ve blended in with this team. I feel great.’’
Busch joins Matt Kenseth as a former NASCAR Cup Series champion who doesn’t have a confirmed ride for next season.
Stewart-Haas Racing declined comment on the story. The team sent a tweet about Busch’s future.
Busch, who is demanding a jury trial in the counterclaim lawsuit, alleges that the sports management company and its law firm “improperly advantaged themselves” along with the interests of clients Team Penske and Andretti Autosport. The countersuit states that Busch wasn’t made aware of such conflicts and wasn’t advised to seek independent counsel.
Busch and SMN entered into a representation contract in 2005 that was extended Aug. 11, 2010 while Busch was driving for Penske (he previously was with Roush Fenway Racing). Busch drove for Andretti in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, finishing sixth.
The suit refutes the claims made by SMN last month that Busch was delinquent in his payments to the company since the second quarter of 2016. He terminated the deal in March 2016.
Busch’s suit states that he maintained an attorney client-relationship with John Caponigro of Sports Management Network and the law firm of Frasco Caponigro Wineman & Scheible “at all relevant times,” covering all matters and transactions related to Busch’s career.
Busch’s suit requests the court enter a judgment in his favor against SMN, FCWS and Caponigro for “millions of dollars to be proven at trial plus all such other relief that the Court deems just and appropriate.”
Busch is asking for at least $1.3M from SMN and Caponigro for compensation received from the driver from January 2011 to January 2016.
In a response to the countersuit, Frasco Caponigro Wineman & Scheible, PLLC, which is representing Sports Management Network, released a statement:
“Defendants’ allegations are outrageous and have no factual basis. It is a shame that, in an effort to avoid paying fees that are owed, Defendants instead have chosen to disparage the impeccable reputation of our clients who, for more than a decade, maximized Mr. Busch’s career opportunities, financially and otherwise, often during times when Mr. Busch’s conduct, both on and off the track, threatened his career. We are confident that the court will see through what is nothing more than a desperate, diversionary tactic.”
The counterclaim states that SMN AND FCWS had “fiduciary, legal, ethical and contractual duties to act in Busch’s best interests” but breached their obligations and caused millions in damages.
SMN also represents NASCAR drivers Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney (both of whom are under contract to Penske), according to its website. It has represented other Penske drivers (such as Sam Hornish Jr.) in the past.
The lawsuit also revealed several details about Busch’s contracts.
When it entered into a four-year extension with Busch in 2010, SMN received a 4% fee of Busch’s base salary. That sum was $250,000, meaning Busch’s base salary for 2010 at Penske was $6.25 million.
The lawsuit notes Busch was due to make “considerably less” under future contracts with Phoenix Racing, Furniture Row Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.
The lawsuit also refers to a two-year deal with Monster Energy for Busch from 2016-17 with an option for 2018, but it’s unclear if that refers to a personal services deal or team sponsorship.
Busch is represented in the counterclaim by the Detroit-based law firm of Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker, P.L.L.C.
Today’s edition of NASCAR America airs live from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Krista Voda and NASCAR Hall of Famer and NASCAR On NBC analyst Dale Jarrett will host from our Stamford, Connecticut studio.
On today’s show:
* Tony Gibson, Daytona Beach native and Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch’s crew chief, talks with Steve Letarte about the emotions he went through Sunday and what it feels like to win at his home track.
* Who is the best restrictor-plate driver in the NASCAR Cup Series? After Kurt Busch’s win at Daytona, does he become part of the conversation, as well? You can be involved, too. Go to NBCSports.com/nascarvote to tell us who you think is the best plate driver in NASCAR.
Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500-winning Ford Fusion has finally stopped rolling after adding an extra few hundred feet to its mileage log.
One day after capturing “The Great American Race,” the No. 41 was placed on permanent display for the next year at Daytona International Speedway’s Daytona 500 Experience Museum during Monday morning’s traditional race winner’s breakfast.
It was the first win for Stewart-Haas Racing in its first regular season race in Ford colors and power.
Check out some of the photos of the car and the festivities:
When Kurt Busch crossed the finish line to win the Daytona 500 Sunday, Tony Stewart was sitting on the pit box next to Busch’s crew chief, Tony Gibson.
While Stewart was jumping up and down in celebration of the win, for a split-second, he wondered if Gibson was alright or if maybe he should call paramedics.
“He was comatose,” Stewart said of Gibson. “He doesn’t move. He put his head back. Did he pass out? I had to shake him a bit.
“He just sat there the whole last lap and when I saw the door open, I started jumping because I knew what was coming. He just never flinched until it was over. He just laid his head back like he was getting a suntan.”
Of the 100,000-plus people at Daytona International Speedway and millions more watching on TV as the exciting finish played out, Gibson was arguably the coolest. It was almost as if he was channeling Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman and his trademark line, “What, me worry?”
Nah, not Gibson. He and Busch had this. It would be their fourth Cup win together, but the biggest by far.
When the checkered flag waved – and while Gibson said Stewart “was like a frog jumping up and down” – Gibson just sat there for a few moments, soaking in all the sights and sounds, still not totally convinced that he and his driver had just won The Great American Race.
“You won the 500,” Stewart told Gibson, who responded with a smile, admitting, “I wasn’t sure I did or not.”
But Sunday was something he never had experienced before: it was the first time he – Tony Gibson, NASCAR’s self-professed “Old Man” – would leave his hometown of Daytona Beach as a Daytona 500-winning crew chief.
It also would bring back tons of memories of his life and all the time he’s logged in and around the “World Center Of Racing.”
“This is where I grew up,” Gibson said. “I was born in Halifax Hospital across the street. My mom retired from here. My dad raced here all his life. To come here and do this is amazing.
“I had two other brothers that raced. Dad had to work night and day and everything he had to make sure we could race and have fun. So my mom and dad are the ones I thought about the very first thing (after Sunday’s win).”
The 52-year-old Gibson has seen and done a lot in his NASCAR life. But never what happened Sunday.
“I’ve been on the road for 33 years in this business in NASCAR, and I’ve put my life and soul into it,” Gibson said. “I’ve won the Daytona 500 before and it’s awesome, but to win it as a crew chief, I can’t describe how it feels, to take your team, put everything together and to make it happen. … It’s just phenomenal as a crew chief. It just means so much to me.
“Growing up, where I’m at today, my wife Beth, she’s been my biggest supporter for the last 26 years, sticking with me when things are bad. I’m laid up in the hospital (recently with kidney stones), whatever.
“All those emotions just clamp on you at one time. It takes a few minutes for it to sink in. It’s pretty incredible.”
Indeed, not only was Busch’s and Gibson’s achievement incredible, it was one of the best feel-good stories that Daytona has seen in many a 500.
While winning Sunday was one of the greatest accomplishments of Gibson’s life, two other stories came to light after the victory celebration that further illustrates the kind of guy Gibson is and why he’s so beloved in the sport.
First, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the soon-to-implode Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2008, Gibson promised Junior that he would do everything he could to keep “his guys” together, that he’d find them jobs somewhere else.”
Indeed, Gibson did, convincing Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, who recently had joined as partners in the then-fledgling Stewart-Haas Racing, to hire most of the former DEI expats – a group that has now been together for more than 13 years.
“I was determined to keep these guys together,” Gibson told NBC’s Marty Snider after Sunday’s race. “That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I’ve done.
“I’m more proud of that, to keep these guys’ jobs when things were really, really bad in the industry. To be able to stay together and come back to win the Daytona 500, I can’t say enough about them.”
Added Stewart, “They all came from DEI and that shows the kind of leadership Tony Gibson has. They’d go to the end of the earth for him.”
Gibson has worked with a number of NASCAR greats, dating back to one of his first jobs as car chief for Alan Kulwicki when he won the 1992 Winston Cup championship.
But it was Busch that gave Gibson the one thing he never had earned in his life: a win in NASCAR’s biggest race in Gibson’s hometown.
Which leads to the second story about the kind of guy Gibson is.
Some other crew chiefs may have been hesitant to work with Busch, given some of the controversy that has occurred in his career – most of it off-track and in his personal life.
But not Gibson. He didn’t judge Busch by what happened in the past. All he was concerned about was Busch’s immense talent and what he would do in the future – and with Gibson atop his pit box.
“I love him to death,” Gibson said of Busch. “When I took that job on a couple years ago, we sat down and had a come-to-Jesus talk right off the bat. And since Day One we’ve been money.
“We respect one another, I respect what he’s accomplished and he respects what I’ve accomplished. And we mesh good together. I wouldn’t have nobody else driving my race cars than Kurt Busch. There’s nobody better. … He’s going to drive the wheels off it no matter what. You never have to second-guess is he giving you 110 percent?”
After 17 years, Busch finally earned NASCAR’s most prestigious honor to go along with the championship he earned in 2004. He came back to Daytona Beach year after year, with several different crew chiefs, including finishing runner-up three times.
But no one could get Busch the one trophy he and Gibson both craved the most – until Sunday.
Damage from an earlier accident in Sunday’s race and fears that he was about a half-lap short on fuel caused Busch great concern. But with “Old Man” atop the pit box, Busch’s concerns were allayed.
“When you have a crew chief that grows up in the shadows of the grandstands here in Daytona, you know you have the best guy because his heart is in it,” Busch said. “That’s what Daytona is about. You have to give it your heart.”
Sunday, Busch and Gibson both put their hearts into the win. And even though Stewart briefly wondered if something may have happened to Gibson’s heart on the pit box, he wasn’t exactly far off in a way.
After giving more than three decades years to the sport he loves, Gibson’s heart was in the best place it ever could be.