For Kyle Busch, an emotionally wrenching ending with Gibbs: ‘The hardest of it all’


AVONDALE, Arizona – On the toughest day of his most difficult NASCAR season, Kyle Busch endured several emotionally wrenching farewells Sunday to Joe Gibbs Racing, including one that was cruelly unexpected.

Among the most difficult of goodbyes came as Busch approached the yellow No. 18 Toyota he would drive for the final time in the familiar M&Ms/Mars livery that became his signature over 15 seasons.

“I couldn’t even look at my car to begin with because it was the last time I’m going to see it,” Busch said while getting choked up after a seventh-place finish at Phoenix Raceway. “It’s … it’s hard, man. It’s not easy. Just wish it wasn’t what it was or what it is, but I’m going to miss a lot of our fun folks that we got to spend a lot of time with over the years. Just look forward to new adventures.”

The two-time Cup Series champion and the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing were ready to put Phoenix in the rear-view mirror after racing through overwhelming grief Sunday.

Less than 45 minutes before the race, the team announced that Coy Gibbs, JGR’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, died in his sleep. The son of team patriarch Joe Gibbs had celebrated an Xfinity championship by his son, Ty, several hours earlier.

Busch learned of the news Sunday morning just after completing his hospitality rounds. Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota officials then held a meeting with its four crew chiefs and drivers, but Busch said skipping the race never was considered.

“That’s not in our DNA,” he said. “I think everybody always kind of says that. If it was a family member of mine, I would probably have still ran today because this is all we know. This is what we’ve grown up doing for life. And so I don’t think that was ever a question that we don’t run today.”

Busch was the top-performing Gibbs driver and fittingly finished just ahead of Denny Hamlin, who gave Busch a prerace hug on the starting grid.

“Denny and I, as much as we may not see eye to eye or see the same path sometimes, we do respect one another a whole ton, and we will forever,” said Busch, who joined the team in 2008 two years after Hamlin moved up to Cup with Gibbs’ No. 11. “I hope that we have the opportunity to race each other as we have as teammates at least.

“He’s really close to the family. He’s been there since the very beginning. So we were both emotional anyway at the start of it. We both had our reasons why.”

Despite all the emotions, Busch rebounded from one of the worst races of his Gibbs career (finishing six laps down in 29th because he was so slow Oct. 30 at Martinsville Speedway).

“Probably just the adrenaline, the focus and all of that stuff,” he said about how managed Sunday. “Once you put a helmet on, you’ve got enough stuff going on that you’re worried about and everything else. No different than anything of all the trials I’ve been through this year. Today was obviously the worst of it all. And the hardest of it all.

“Just gave it everything I had, and that’s all we had. Wish it could have been better. Wish it could have been a top five. Top three. Run a little bit better. But I’ll take the satisfaction in being the top Gibbs car today.”

He also will take away fond memories of Coy, whom Busch said “was a lot like me.” Coy Gibbs had moved into a management role at JGR in recent years since his older brother, J.D., had exited as team president after being struck by a degenerative neurological condition that preceded his death in 2019.

“Coy didn’t take any bullshit and told everybody the way it was and straight to their face,” Busch said. “I loved Coy for that and for his tenacity. He took on a huge role in filling the shoes of his brother and maybe a little more on the competition side than the business side in that respect, but he’s done nothing but try to push us all to go forward and win races and be competitive and to be strong and all that.

“Honestly that’s what I’ll remember most about him. But the majority of my thoughts and prayers are with Joe and the family. Everybody else. Heather, Melissa, all of them.”

Though he will leave with strong bonds (Busch gave high fives and hugs to all his team members before speaking to reporters), his last season with Gibbs was largely forgettable.

He finished 14th in the points standings (his worst since his 2005 rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports) with a career-low eight top fives.

Busch said the slide began with the 2020 season, which ended in a split from Adam Stevens (the crew chief for his championships in 2015 and ’19).

“Ever since the breakup with Adam, it’s just not been the same,” Busch said. “We were Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus). We had that capability. Try to form that again with a new group, and it was never the same, but we were successful. We won some races. We had legitimate shots to win a hell of a lot more races this year than we got. But with this new car, man, you’ve got to be on top of it all the time.”

For the second season of the Next Gen, Busch will start anew in the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing.

Though his official start date won’t be until January 2023 (because of contractual obligations to JGR and Toyota that will tie him up through December and the NASCAR awards ceremony), Busch said he “already has started a little bit” at RCR (including some visits to the team shop).

He has been talking and texting with future teammate Austin Dillon about simulator work and hunting licenses. Busch even dropped a subversive RCR sponsor reference when asked about how he’d be reflecting during the plane ride back to North Carolina (“Maybe I’ll take some 3Chi since the season’s over and not think on the way home.”).

But the pall hanging over Sunday’s race also was a reminder of how tough the season had been.

“It’s got to turn around and get easier at some point,” said Busch, whose wife, Samantha, encapsulated the tumultuous weekend in a social media post late Sunday night. “I don’t know if that’s tomorrow or when that is. We’ve still got the banquet to get through and some other things with the family and all that.

“But this makes it all that much more tougher.”

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.