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.

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.