Long: Kurt Busch’s growth among his greatest achievements in Hall of Fame career


LAS VEGAS — Once known as the Outlaw, Kurt Busch morphed into a mentor and statesman in as dramatic a change by an individual in NASCAR over the past 20 years. 

Busch, the last active Cup competitor to race against Dale Earnhardt, announced Saturday that he will not compete the rest of this season and will cede his No. 45 seat to Tyler Reddick next year, as he continues to recover from a concussion he suffered this summer.

While the 44-year-old Busch seeks to race again, Saturday’s announcement closes the chapter of his full-time career in a sport that has tortured him at times but also will honor him with induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame some day. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas 

Busch won the 2004 Cup title, 34 series races and scored victories with five different organizations — well worthy of enshrinement in the Hall. Among his wins are the 2017 Daytona 500 and the 2010 Coca-Cola 600. 

On Saturday, Busch called himself a “blue-collar kid” who had success early in NASCAR and “wasn’t quite prepared for the big stardom and the corporate side of it and the professional side of it. It was kind of learn as you go.”

Busch arrived during NASCAR’s most popular era in the last 25 years. Cameras were everywhere. Mistakes, gaffes and conflicts were captured and replayed repeatedly. Busch was among those who often provided moments that live forever on YouTube.

A series of public missteps led Roush Fenway Racing to fire him late in the 2005 season and Penske Racing to do the same thing after the 2011 season. 

A driver known as much for his volatility as trips to Victory Lane was relegated to the lowest end of the sport after he lost his ride with car owner Roger Penske’s team.

There were questions about if Busch had a future in the sport, if his talent could return him to the top, a recovery few drivers ever complete once they fall so far. 

Busch went to James Finch’s underfunded Phoenix Racing team in 2012 and began a slow climb back up the sport’s ranks. After a year at Furniture Row Racing, he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and won the Daytona 500 three years later. 

For all that he accomplished, his growth ranks among the biggest achievements in his racing career. Busch was brought to 23XI Racing before this season to serve as a mentor to Bubba Wallace. Busch said Saturday he looks forward to working more with Wallace off the track, as well as Reddick.

While the challenges were not the same, AJ Allmendinger can appreciate Busch’s climb, just as Allmendinger has gone from seemingly out of the sport to contending for the Xfinity title this year and moving back full-time to Cup next year.

“We’re all different modes, but I think Kurt, you just saw whatever that switch was, he’s just a lot happier over the last several years,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports.

That’s the key, finding that balance between what happens on the track and how one responds off the track.

With his experiences, Busch can provide wisdom gained from his journey. It is something he’s willing to share. He’s also looked to impact the sport in other ways.

“What I will say about Kurt that probably not most everyone knows is that his impact from behind the scenes of wanting to progress our sport over the last few years for sure … he was pulling a lot of strings back there,” former champion Joey Logano said. “I believe he still will. It’s a true statement of a champion that he is, is that he cares about the sport. He wants to leave it better when he got here. That’s Hall of Famer to me in my opinion.”

That Busch doesn’t have the chance to go out on his terms is because of symptoms related to the concussion he suffered July 23 in a crash during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. Busch has not been cleared to race.

The only time Busch’s voice quivered during Saturday’s announcement came as he said “I will be stepping away … from full-time Cup competition in 2023.”

But he looks to continue racing once he recovers from his concussion. He noted how he still wants to win at Darlington and Watkins Glen but also looked beyond NASCAR. LeMans, Australia and elsewhere around the world are items on his bucket list.

Chase Briscoe says he’ll miss racing Busch.

“I will say that Kurt Busch my entire rookie year, I felt like on the race track, gave me more respect than anybody else,” Briscoe said. “Any time I got to me, he was super, super clean. He was the only guy in the field that, if I was faster, would let me go. I don’t know if Kurt was like that with everybody but I appreciated it.”

Ross Chastain has benefitted from Busch’s growth by learning from the former champion when they were teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing. Chastain appreciates what Busch has become.

“He’s molded himself into the person that he wants to be,” Chastain said.

North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.


Josh Williams suspended for one race after Atlanta infraction


NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams has been suspended for one race because of his actions during last Saturday’s Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Williams will be ineligible to participate in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. He would be able to return for the April 1 race at Richmond, Virginia.

Williams was penalized for a “behavioral” infraction, specifically disobeying a NASCAR request.

In a tweet after the suspension was announced, Williams said: “I stand behind what I did and I don’t regret any decisions I made. I stand behind NASCAR for these decisions and will continue and always support them.” He said Alex Labbe will drive the team’s No. 92 car at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.

MORE: Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended

NASCAR officials ordered Williams off the track during Saturday’s race after his car was involved in an accident. Debris falling from his car prompted a caution flag, leading NASCAR to order him to park.

Instead of going to the garage area, Williams parked his car at the start-finish line and walked to pit road.

Williams was escorted to the NASCAR hauler office at the track. He waited there until the conclusion of the race and then met with officials for about 20 minutes.

MORE: NBC Power Rankings: Christopher Bell rises to the top

Section 8.8.9.I of the Xfinity Series Rule Book states that with the Damaged Vehicle Policy, NASCAR can order a car off the track: “At the discretion of the Series Managing Director, if a damaged vehicle elects not to enter pit road on the first opportunity or if a damaged vehicle exits pit road before sufficient repairs had been made and thereafter causes or extends a caution (e.g. leaking fluid, debris, etc.), then said vehicle may incur a lap(s) or time penalty or may not be permitted to return to the Race.”

Williams later admitted he had violated a rule but said he was frustrated by the NASCAR decision.

“We all work really hard and to only run ‘X’ amount of laps and then to have something like a piece of Bear Bond and put us out of the race, it’s really frustrating,” Williams said after his meeting with series officials. “Small team. We work really hard. We’ve got to make our sponsors happy, right? It doesn’t do any good sitting in the garage. It is what it is. We’ll learn from it and move on.

“I told them I was a little bit frustrated,” Williams said of NASCAR’s call, “but it was in the rule book.”