While Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing remain committed to sign Kyle Busch to a contract extension, a Toyota executive told NBC Sports that they are “contingency planning.”
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said the manufacturer and JGR are “trying to find a path” to keep the two-time Cup champion with them — Busch’s home since 2008.
“If there’s not sponsorship there, maybe we can create a bridge somewhere,” Wilson said.
If not, Busch could be headed elsewhere. It’s a notion that seemed implausible earlier this year, but Busch told reporters last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that he’s talked with other teams.
“We have to have contingency plans,” Wilson said. “Rest assured, we’re thinking about every way this can go.”
Asked if he was confident of a deal getting done, or if he foresaw having to say goodbye to Busch at the end of the season, Wilson said: “I wish I could handicap it for you … but I just can’t. We’re in a bad place right now … we’ve got some tremendously heavy lifting in front of us.”
The issue for Joe Gibbs Racing is that it has not been able to secure sponsorship for Busch next season. Until that is done, the organization is not likely to sign Busch to a new deal.
JGR has been searching for a sponsor since Mars, Inc., announced in December that this would be its final season with the team and in the sport.
A potential sponsor fell through earlier and reset the sponsorship search. Wilson said that there have been talks with “a number of sponsors.”
“I use the baseball analogy in that a couple of months ago it was it was much easier to imagine success, and we had some partners that we thought we were going to land,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “And that was the bottom of the third inning (of a nine-inning game). Now we’re in the bottom of the seventh. And the fact is that we don’t have it.
“Joe (Gibbs) and I talk every night. This is the most important consideration that we are struggling with and working on. Our resolve has not changed one bit. We are not going to quit. … Sometimes these deals come together very late.
“It doesn’t get easier, that’s for certain. For Kyle, I feel terribly because the distraction, I think he admitted this, but the distraction now is real. While I say that Kyle is one of those athletes that can strap on his helmet and put that aside, he’s still human.
“So, my counsel to him (this past weekend) was around the partnership and how important this remains for Toyota and for Coach Gibbs. Made sure he knew we hadn’t given up. Just urged him to keep his head in the game and maintain a collaborative perspective because we’re going to need him to get this done as well. … It’s a different marketplace and we’re facing some headwinds with the economy that everybody is facing.”
Wilson did not reveal the contingency plans that Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing had to keep Busch or what those plans would be should Busch leave.
The question is where Busch would go. Stewart-Haas Racing has an opening after Aric Almirola announced before the season that this would be his last full-time Cup ride. But the notion of Almirola returning to keep sponsor Smithfield on board is gaining momentum.
If Busch left, Ty Gibbs would be a natural choice even though Joe Gibbs has said that the organization seeks to keep the 19-year-old in the Xfinity Series another year. But with eight wins in his first 36 races — a 22.2% winning percentage — maybe it would be better to have him move up.