CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch says he hopes to have a decision soon on where he’ll drive next season.
Busch, speaking at NASCAR’s playoff media day, told reporters Thursday that he has multiple options in front of him.
He won’t put a timeline on his decision, but when asked if he anticipated making it in the next seven to 10 days, Busch said: “It needs to be. … Obviously, time is a ticking. There’s a lot of other options and a lot of other dominoes that need to fall. Talking amongst others, I’m the first one that needs to go.”
Busch confirmed that returning to Joe Gibbs Racing remains an option.
Busch said that “more than one (team) that has paper in front me, yes.”
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This situation started last year when Mars, Inc. announced that it would not return to the team and the sport after the 2022 season. Mars, Inc., reportedly paid about $20 million a season to sponsor Busch’s No. 18 team at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Joe Gibbs Racing had a potential sponsor back away earlier this year, setting things in motion for Busch’s rocky summer.
In response to a question from NBC Sports last month at Watkins Glen about what he’s gone through during this process, Busch said: “It’s been hard as hell. It’s been a lot of sleepless nights figuring out what your future is and all that sort of stuff.”
Part of the challenge has been what happens to Kyle Busch Motorsports should he leave Toyota and go to another team and manufacturer.
“I would say that the Truck Series option with Kyle Busch Motorsports has probably made this situation, 80-85% harder than just me,” Busch said. “I would have been done by now if it was just me.”
With five months until the start of the 2023 season, Joe Gibbs Racing is running out of time to find a sponsor that can fully fund the No. 18 team.
The situation has led some to question if Busch’s personality is as much a factor in not being able to announce a sponsor. For as talented as he is — some view him as the best of his generation — it’s easy to find clips of his actions or comments that might raise questions for some potential sponsors.
Asked if Kyle’s polarizing personality is making an impact in securing a sponsor, Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson said last weekend at Daytona: “Of course. Absolutely. We say every week, it’s not good enough in this sport at the highest level to be the best driver. Kyle Busch is in the conversation for the greatest of all time. … He’s in the process of breaking every record the sport has ever seen.
“That’s not good enough in this sport. You need corporate America, sponsorship to drive the ship. Whether that’s a good thing or not a good thing, that’s not for me to say. That’s fact.
“It has been a challenging environment. Some of that is just organic to the current economy, inflation, recession, whatever you want to call it. Some of that is absolutely, again, the polarizing nature of some drivers. They don’t fit every sponsor.”
Wilson noted that Busch has been “arguably charming” in recent weeks.
“He knows at his core that he’s auditioning for somebody and he’s well served to be that Kyle Busch,” Wilson said. “It’s been fun, and here’s what I’ll say, it’s not just in front of (the press), it’s on an interpersonal level as well. He is making an effort. He is absolutely is.”
Busch was engaging and charming in his nearly 30-minute session with reporters Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Admittedly, it came in a more relaxed setting away from the track.
Busch acknowledged that his personality could be a factor in the sponsor search but said there were other factors.
“The perception is yeah, it’s probably tougher being who I am to sell a sponsor, but I’m going to argue that fact to name me the last $5 to $10 million sponsor that’s come in our sport lately.”
With the limited number of big sponsors, will Busch have to change his personality?
“I feel like having the freedom of being able to act or react to certain situations, the way that I could through the support of M&M’s allowed me to be as successful as I was on Sunday, 1,000%,” Busch said. “So will that have to change? Most likely How much 10%, 15%?”
Then he said with a smile “maybe it’s 18%,” alluding to his car number.
Even through all of this, Busch says he remains confident he can win his third championships this season. He enters Sunday’s playoff opener at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on USA Network) seeded 11th in the 16-driver field.
“I feel like we’re a top-five, top-six team right now,” Busch said. “We just need to clean up some of our mistakes.”