Friday 5: How did it come to this for Kyle Busch?

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Less than four months before the season ends, a two-time Cup champion — and arguably one of the greatest talents of his generation — remains unsigned for next year. 

It seems unfathomable that Kyle Busch doesn’t have a contract extension. The reality, though, is that a series of events have led to this situation. 

Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson summed it up to NBC Sports this week, saying: “We’re in a bad place right now.”

While Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing seek to keep Busch — who has been with the team since 2008 — Wilson admits that contingency plans are being contemplated.

But how did it get to this?

Joe Gibbs Racing typically completes contract extensions with its drivers either before or early into the final year of their deal. The team announced that it had signed Busch and Mars, Inc. to contract extensions on Feb. 28, 2019 — 11 days after the Daytona 500. Those extensions go through this season.

The team did the same thing with Denny Hamlin and FedEx, announcing their most recent contract extensions on Feb. 1, 2021. The most recent contract extension for Martin Truex Jr. was announced Feb. 10, 2021. Both of those deals came before the Daytona 500.

JGR hoped for similar timing this year before Mars, Inc. informed the team last summer that it would not return after this year. The announcement was made last December.

As spring turned to summer and JGR had not announced an extension for Busch, questions were raised. 

After Busch won the dirt race at Bristol in April, Coy Gibbs, vice chairman and chief operating officer of JGR, was asked about the sponsor search for the No. 18 team.

“We’ve got a couple people we’re talking to, so we’re excited about that, excited about the leads,” Coy Gibbs said.

Wilson told NBC Sports that a potential sponsor for Busch’s car fell through earlier this year. He said that Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing are working on various plans. 

“Joe and I talk every night,” Wilson said of car owner Joe Gibbs. “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.”

Asked how he thought this would end, Wilson told NBC Sports: “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.”

Sources tell NBC Sports that the potential sponsor that fell through was Oracle, a technology corporation based in Austin, Texas.

In February, Formula 1 team Red Bull Racing announced that Oracle would be its new title sponsor. Sports Pro Media reported that the five-year deal was worth around $300 million.

But a recent report from The Information, which details the technology industry, stated that Oracle has discussed a $1 billion cost-cutting initiative that could lead to thousands of layoffs as early as August. That’s after a June earnings call in which Oracle announced revenues were up 5% year-over-year for fiscal 2022 fourth quarter.

While shares of Oracle stock rose 2.69% Thursday to $74.54, the company closed $31.80 below its 52-week high of $106.34. That’s a 29.9% decrease from the company’s 52-week high. 

Moving on from Oracle, Joe Gibbs Racing’s quest remains — find a sponsor or sponsors to be on the No. 18 car for nearly the entire season, which Mars did through its brands. 

Without significant sponsorship, a team cannot pay what a two-time Cup champion is worth.

Joe Gibbs said last week that “I’m surprised at this point that we haven’t been able to get that (deal) finished.”

Busch told reporters last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that he’s talked to other teams. 

All-Star Race
Kyle Busch has won 56 of Joe Gibbs Racing’s 198 career Cup victories. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The only high-profile car known to be open for next season is the No. 10 car at Stewart-Haas Racing. Aric Almirola announced in January that he would retire from full-time Cup competition, but he said last weekend that “decision makers” have asked him about returning, whether that is part-time or full-time. If so, that would take away that option for Busch.

Since there are limited openings for next season, one alternative for Joe Gibbs Racing and Busch could be to sign a one-year deal with a reduced salary. Such a deal could provide more time for JGR to find sponsorship for 2024 with the intent of a much larger salary for Busch. 

While that might not be the most appealing prospect for Busch, it would keep him with one of the sport’s top organizations for a year and could provide him with more potential suitors next season. 

Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Trackhouse Racing are among winning teams that could have an opening after the 2023 season based on current contracts. 

Even if many of those teams pass on Busch, all it would take is one other team to be interested to drive up the salary for Busch.

“We’ve been pretty consistent since the end of last season, which is we want Kyle to be in the 18 car and that’s our plan,” Dave Alpern, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said in early July. “We’re still working on sponsorship.

“As much interest as there is in our sport, these take a long time. Admittedly, this one’s taken a little longer than we thought. It’s not for lack of interest. It’s just trying to get everything put together. (An extension for Busch and new sponsor deal) will probably happen in parallel. 

“We’re hoping to get something decided here in the very near future.”

If not, then what?

That is a reality Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing don’t want to envision.

“Any scenario that doesn’t have Kyle Busch retiring from Joe Gibbs racing and Toyota would be a monstrous disappointment,” Wilson said in May.

2. Climbing the charts

Putting a street race in Chicago next season continues a trend by NASCAR in the past four years to place events in some of the country’s largest TV markets.

Since 2018, NASCAR has added Cup races in:

  • Los Angeles, the No. 2 TV market in the country (Clash at the Coliseum in 2022)
  • Chicago, the No. 3 TV market (2023 street course race)
  • St. Louis, the No. 23 TV market (World Wide Technology Raceway in 2022)
  • Nashville, the No. 29 TV market (Nashville Superspeedway in 2021)
  • Austin, the No. 38 TV market (Circuit of the Americas in 2021)

Next year, the Cup Series will have races either in or within an hour’s drive of Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth (No. 5 TV market), San Francisco (No. 6 TV market) and Atlanta (No. 7 TV market). 

NASCAR touted that more than two-thirds of the fans attending the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had not purchased a ticket for a NASCAR race previously. The event attracted an crowed estimated at more than 50,000 and Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy, called it an “incredible day.”

In announcing the first Cup street course race in NASCAR’s history, Kennedy said before a Chicago audience it was a “monumental day.”

One wonders what word he uses to describe NASCAR’s next move. While it might be a year or so away, NASCAR isn’t done with changes to the schedule.

“We want to continue to explore new markets,” Kennedy said.

“We’ve talked a lot about the Pacific Northwest. We’ve talked a lot about the Northeast area. That’s an important market for us. 

“Even internationally as well. I don’t know that there will be a day, at least in the short term, that we’ll go necessarily overseas, but there might be an opportunity for us, sometime in the future, to go north of the border up to Canada, or to go to Mexico. 

“Not sure what that looks like. That’s probably a little bit of a longer-term vision for us, but certainly putting all cards on the table.”

Even with those races in big markets, Trackhouse Racing team owner Justin Marks told NBC Sports that NASCAR’s moves aren’t bypassing some of the sport’s traditional sites.

“I think they are walking that line between being … very creative in how they develop the sport for the future, while also making sure they are committed to the events that, for decades, have gotten us here,” he said.

NASCAR’s schedule this season includes two races in Darlington, Bristol and Martinsville — traditional venues in small markets. Each track hosts a playoff race. The playoffs begin in Darlington with the Southern 500, the cutoff race in the first round is at Bristol and Martinsville hosts the final race before the championship event in Phoenix. 

3. Ahead of his time

Four years ago, Justin Marks called for NASCAR to run a street course event, saying “I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people. 

“In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.”

The sentiment remains true about street course events. They’re as much a party as a racing event. 

That concept has kept the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach a relevant part of the California city for 47 years.

Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, told NBC Sports that about 65% of the people attending the race weekend “are not what you would call traditional racing fans. 

“When you think about how you’re going to organize an event, you have to keep in mind that these aren’t individuals who are committed to driving, 30, 40, 50, 100 miles and spending a day or two or three camping or doing whatever they want to do to watch racing.

“These people are coming into a downtown setting, which hopefully, has all the allurements and attractions that the downtown race venue has, and are coming to enjoy racing, yeah to a certain degree. 

“The fact is our event is a three-day festival. It has a variety of different activities, whether it’s concerts, whether it’s a large expo, whether it’s a kid’s zone, whether it’s a car show, hospitality options, all of those things need to be part and parceled in the composition of the event so that there is something amongst that whole milieu that people say, ‘You know what? I’m attracted to that,’ and that causes them to come.”

Marks not only has a role as owner of Trackhouse Racing but in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix through the streets of Nashville. The Aug. 7 event will mark the second running. 

“The whole conversation about how to have a successful event has got nothing to do with the race, really,” Marks told NBC Sports. “It’s just got to do with all the peripheral experience.”

As part of the announcement that NASCAR will race on the streets of Chicago next year is that there would be various concerts and entertainment options for those attending.

“We’ve really placed an emphasis particularly on making sure that we expose young people to this opportunity,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after Tuesday’s announcement. “We’ve done it with everything. We’re doing it, for example with Lollapalooza, where they get a behind-the-scenes opportunity. So we just see the opportunities to really build great deep synergies with the residents in Chicago.”

4. Waiting on a phone call

Ty Dillon’s departure from the No. 42 Petty GMS Motorsports car at the end of the season could provide an opportunity for Noah Gragson.

Black Rifle Coffee Company has sponsored Dillon’s car in six Cup races this season, including the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race. The company also has been on Gragson’s JR Motorsports Xfinity car all season.

Also, Dave Elenz, crew chief for Erik Jones on the No. 43 Petty GMS car, was the crew chief for Gragson the previous three seasons. He could provide Gragson a familiar face in the building.

Whether it is Gragson or any other JR Motorsports driver, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he looks forward to hearing from his drivers when they have a Cup opportunity.

“I can’t wait for the phone to ring for any of our four guys to get a call,” Earnhardt said. “I want to know about it as soon as it happens. I can’t wait to help them to make a decision of whether that is a smart move or not.

“I was in the foyer of my house when Aric Almirola called me (in 2011). He said, ‘I got some tough news.’ He said ‘Richard Petty has called me to see …’

“You’ve got to go.’ I didn’t even let him finish his sentence. That’s it. That’s what we do this for. ‘This is your chance.’ I was so happy. That’s like a win. That’s like a trophy. … It’s kind of getting pulled up from the minors. It could happen any minute. In the middle of the year.

“I’m excited anytime that happens and the potential for Noah to have that opportunity. I’m waiting. I’m waiting to hear that phone ring any second for him and for any of our guys.”

5. Searching for first win of the year

Here’s a look at playoff-eligible drivers searching for their first win this season who have won at the remaining tracks in the regular season.

Pocono — Kevin Harvick (2020), Martin Truex Jr. (2018, 2015), Ryan Blaney (2017), Chris Buescher (2016), Brad Keselowski (2011)

Indianapolis road course — None

Michigan — Ryan Blaney (2021), Kevin Harvick (twice in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2010)

Richmond — Martin Truex Jr. (2021, twice in 2019), Brad Keselowski (2020, 2014), Kevin Harvick (2013, 2011, 2006) 

Watkins Glen — Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Kevin Harvick (2006)

Daytona — Ryan Blaney (2021), Michael McDowell (2020), Justin Haley (2019), Erik Jones (2018), Austin Dillon (2018), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Brad Keselowski (2016), Aric Almirola (2014), Kevin Harvick (2010, 2007)

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”