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.
Busch had expressed optimism at Daytona International Speedway that he would return to the team, which he joined in 2014 after a one-season stint with Furniture Row Racing.
“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.