Ryan: Kyle Busch should be looking hard at career options beyond NASCAR in next step

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INDIANAPOLIS – During his ongoing free agency saga that has morphed into possibly the biggest story of the NASCAR season, Kyle Busch has confirmed talks with other teams without specifying which.

Some candidates are abundantly clear: Stewart-Haas Racing and its No. 10 vacancy. Richard Childress Racing and its lame-duck No. 8. Others are a little less obvious.

Would Trackhouse Racing slide him into a third car with another charter? Could Kaulig Racing put him in its full-time (but with a rotating lineup) No. 16? Does Petty GMS make a power play to team him with Erik Jones (whom Busch discovered at the Snowball Derby nearly a decade ago)?

Those are all Cup Series teams, though.

If Busch is serious about exploring all his options after 15 seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, his weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway should have included a trip through the back gate of Gasoline Alley and into the NTT IndyCar Series paddock.

Chip Ganassi tried to hire Busch to drive a Cup car 15 years ago (and was runner-up of the intense bidding war that resulted in Busch leaving Hendrick Motorsports for Gibbs), and he once brought Juan Pablo Montoya to NASCAR from F1 with no stock-car experience.

Michael Andretti fielded a car in the 2014 Indy 500 for Kyle’s older brother, Kurt (who finished sixth as rookie of the year).

Zak Brown seems hell-bent on bringing every driver in the world into the McLaren Racing fold.

IndyCar’s Silly Season is in full swing, and Busch should have no trouble commanding an audience of suitors interested in his talents whether for a one-off Indy 500 entry or a schedule of multiple races.

The idea of Busch racing beyond NASCAR once seemed unfathomable.

But as the 2022 Cup season unfolds without a multiyear, big-salary contract for Busch, it should be looming as a greater possibility than ever – which the two-time series champion acknowledged for the first time Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Somebody said, ‘Maybe you should go and do the (Kyle) Larson tour,’ ”  Busch said in response to a question from NBC Sports about whether his uncertain future could lead outside NASCAR. “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.”

Though understandable why he has trouble wrapping his head around it, Busch should do more than entertain the concept.

Leaving NASCAR should be a primary option for many reasons.

Aside from a Daytona 500 victory, there isn’t much left for Busch, 37, to accomplish in Cup. His first-ballot Hall of Fame election already is secure. His versatility – 200 victories across the top three national series – is legendary.

Since the current knockout playoff format was introduced in 2014, winning a title in some ways has become more arbitrary than ever (witness the final pit stop that determined last year’s champion despite Kyle Larson having the third-or fourth-fastest car in the Phoenix title race).

Busch is all about chasing records, but he never is getting to seven championships and once you become a multiple champion, what’s really the difference between having two, four or six? He always will be short of the holy trinity of Earnhardt, Petty and Johnson, and his five championship round appearances will be remembered for its elite consistency.

Consider the options if Busch elected to remain in NASCAR (and likely drive for millions less, at least in the short term).

He can give Gibbs a home-team discount (maybe in a one-year “bridge” to a longer extension), but there are some aspects of his relationship to the team that seem to have been permanently altered through the process of taking several months to re-sign.

Ty Gibbs has emerged as a surefire future star. His inevitable promotion to Cup will continue to linger in the background even if Busch stays on (particularly on a one-year deal), and Joe Gibbs’ grandson spends another year in Xfinity. The parlor games will begin anew next January about the futures of Martin Truex Jr. and Busch and slotting Ty Gibbs into one of their cars for 2024.

The teenager’s emergence has been among the confluence of extenuating circumstances that have left Busch clearly agitated at times during contract talks that have dragged on months longer than anyone could have wanted.

It certainly isn’t Busch’s fault (nor Gibbs’ to some degree), that potential sponsors have fallen through amidst recent economic turbulence and the ongoing reset of superstar driver salaries in NASCAR. But the team also had been informed of Mars Inc.’s departure long before the 2022 season and still was unable to line anything up.

Team owner Joe Gibbs talked with Kyle Busch during Saturday practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Bob Goshert/For IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Network).

The most attractive option for Kyle Busch is Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick’s welcoming comments Saturday indicate it could be a good fit, and Gene Haas’ deep pockets also could solve the problem of Busch being forced below his perceived market value. But given SHR’s performance since last season (and the current state of Ford Mustangs in Cup), it wouldn’t be a lateral move.

As Harvick alluded, Busch is a franchise driver who singlehandedly could raise the team’s game, but it likely would take at least a year to get him acclimated, and Busch is nearing the backside of his career prime.

The same problem holds true for the host of other midlevel teams that would love to bring in Busch as a superstar to attract talented engineers and team members from NASCAR’s powerhouses.

Busch might have the knowledge and talent to lead a rebuilding project, but does the self-proclaimed “KFB” have the patience or temperament, especially in his late 30s? (Ask Brad Keselowski how that’s going in Year 1 as a driver-owner with RFK Racing.)

“Rowdy” is about showcasing his ability to race anything, anywhere and always leaving a mark.

There’s never been a better time to do that than now for Busch, who has openly talked about wanting to race the Indy 500 (a deal was denied by Gibbs in 2017) and run for the overall prototype win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The racing world suddenly can be his oyster, and if he takes the bold step of seriously exploring it, Busch might find the opportunities even more limitless in interest from series (never mind just teams).

IndyCar has made multiple runs at a crossover for him, and Roger Penske (who has hinted at a future Indy 500 for Kyle Larson) surely would like to have Busch racing the Brickyard in May. It’s easy to imagine dirt series such as the World of Outlaws bending over backward to help arrange his passage to prestigious events such as the Knoxville Nationals.

Kyle Busch has more than 200 victories across NASCAR’s three national series (Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports).

The ship has sailed on Formula One, but Busch long has been talked about in international circles as having the makeup to race globally. With next year’s synergy of IMSA and the World Endurance Championship amid the massive influx of manufacturer cash into sports cars, unexpected doors could open beyond the Rolex 24 and Le Mans.

This could be the supercharged version of The Kyle Larson Tour that captivated much of the racing world in 2020.

There could be one major hang-up: Money.

He has spoken often about the 50 families at Kyle Busch Motorsports depending on his truck series team to put food on the table, and Busch also has become accustomed to living a little large himself (like most Cup champions). The upkeep on a Lake Norman mansion is a lot easier with a Cup salary, and it’ll be hard to piece together enough from lesser series to make up the difference.

But he already is open to taking less in his next Gibbs deal. That indicates money might be less of an issue in any scenario, and there also could be creative new revenue streams outside NASCAR (lest we forget, Larson easily made seven figures selling dirt merch) for the largest lightning rod in the Cup Series.

Busch is the most transcendent driver NASCAR has – which is why it makes even more sense to look beyond stock cars for his next step.

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.”