INDIANAPOLIS – Wrestling with “a lot of sleepless nights” about his racing future, Kyle Busch said he is open to a host of options, including taking less money or a one-year deal to remain with Joe Gibbs Racing and possibly leaving NASCAR to race other series.
Addressing reporters before NASCAR Cup Series qualifying Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch said he was willing to make concessions “and to race for under my market value” to re-sign with JGR’s No. 18 Toyota.
“I don’t think money has ever been the objective or the issue,” Busch said. “Obviously, I know where the sport’s landscape is. I know what’s happening. And I’ve accepted (taking a smaller salary). And have told everybody that. I’m trying to see where all that lies.”
KYLE BUSCH CONTRACT SAGA: How Busch, Gibbs arrived at this point
Busch confirmed that he still remains in weekly talks with other teams but wouldn’t specify which. He and Gibbs haven’t set a deadline for whether he’d return to the team.
In a separate group interview Saturday morning, Kevin Harvick said he would be “100 percent open” to having Busch as a teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing. SHR has yet to confirm a driver next season for the No. 10 Ford, which was expected to be vacated with Aric Almirola‘s retirement.
Busch said he would be willing to take a one-year “bridge” deal to stay with JGR and then sign a long-term extension next year if a sponsor was found. Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson had suggested a bridge deal for Busch was an option in a recent interview with NBC Sports’ Dustin Long.
“Yeah, anything’s on the table,” Busch said Saturday. “We’re talking ’23 options; we’re talking ’24 options. We’re talking long term. Everybody, everything. The white board is quite full.”
That includes considering racing outside NASCAR next year.
“Somebody said, ‘Maybe you should go and do the (Kyle) Larson tour,’ ” Busch said. “Go run Late Models, dirt cars, IMSA, Indy. And it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ That just seems to add a new element to everything. And that’s probably the farthest down on my list that I’d entertain but certainly wouldn’t leave it out.”
Busch had a deal arranged to race the 2017 Indy 500 that was quashed by team owner Joe Gibbs. In addition to wanting to race the Indy 500, Busch also has said he wants to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Busch’s most recent deal with JGR was announced Feb. 28, 2019 and also included an extension with Mars Inc., which is leaving after this season.
Other highlights from Busch’s 11-minute session with reporters that marked his most expansive comments this season about his contract situation:
–On whether he feels wanted by Joe Gibbs Racing:
“It’s tough, right? You’ve got to have sponsorship in this sport to be able to go forward. It’s not as simple as being a basketball player and being a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James or something like that and being a really good player and the team losing a sponsor and then saying, ‘OK, Michael and LeBron, we have to let you go because we can’t afford you.’
“Again you have to have some sponsorship on this car. Unfortunately, there’s not that unicorn. There’s not that big 20 million dollar number out there. I’d like to be able to piece it together, but I haven’t heard much on that yet, either.”
–On whether Kyle Busch Motorsports being Toyota’s flagship team in the truck series gives him leverage:
“I’d like to think that it does. But also could be a burden and a little bit of a headache, where some other teams you talk to, they don’t want to carry the burden of that. They don’t want to have anything to do with it. That’s a frustration, too.
“Like I said last week, I’ll say it again, there are 50 families over there that are important to me that we keep that thing going as best that we possibly can. Obviously, I have to look out for myself and my family’s future but also all of them.”
–On if he’s discussed his future with crew chief Ben Beshore and other No. 18 team members:
“We’ve just been putting our heads down in the books to try to keep working and keep going at what we know we’re good at it. We have not spoken about the uncertainties.”
–On the rumors surrounding his future:
“You definitely get a kick out of it. It’s kind of funny because there are actually some ideas thrown that I haven’t thought of, so you’re like, ‘Oh, I might want to explore that one.’ Obviously, it’s a mess right now. Just trying to sort through it all the best I can.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into this, and I really don’t want to be going through this. My first option, my first goal, my first step is to be with Joe Gibbs Racing and stay at Toyota and have nothing change. But that unicorn hasn’t fallen out of the sky for 20 million bucks or whatever it is, and I don’t think it needs to be that number. Because obviously there’s a number in that that pays a driver, and I’ve already said I’m willing to take concessions and race for under my market value and go forward in being able to stay in the seat that I’ve made home for the last 15 years.”
–On if he’s gone back and forth on staying with Gibbs:
“I don’t think it’s changed back and forth. If you read the last 3-4 weeks of quotes from me, I’ve said and will continue to say my first goal is to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing. If the musical chairs music stops, and I’m still standing and don’t have a seat, I’m screwed, so I have to make sure I continue to talk and evaluate each place, each situation to find something.”
–On being the only active multiple Cup series champion and yet unsigned for 2023:
“I hate to make comparisons, but somebody told me a week or so ago, it would be like Dale Earnhardt in 1998, three or four years after winning his last championship, being on the free market and not having a ride. That just sounds crazy. So I don’t know what to do, how to fix it. It’s the unicorn. The sponsorship you need to go forward. That’s just where it’s at. Hoping we can find something.”
–On the disqualification of his second-place finish last Sunday at Pocono Raceway:
“It’s excessive for what it was. I get the process of this car and making sure the example is out there, and they did the same thing with (the No. 6 Brad Keselowski team) and the 34 team (of Michael McDowell). I’m not sure what those instances were. I don’t know exactly how our process happened where that piece of tape got on there, but it was unfortunate in the end result. Minimal if anything. You go back and run that race tomorrow, and we run the same way (without the tape).”