Kyle Busch one-on-one: ‘I expect to be fast right away’ with move to Childress

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Kyle Busch will be at the center of the most dramatic change in NASCAR circles in the new season.

After winning races and championships in a long and successful partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch will open the 2023 season driving for Richard Childress Racing. It’s the change that almost no one saw coming, in part because Busch and Childress had something less than a wonderful relationship.

Busch is 37 years old, and this will likely be his last stop in NASCAR. With two Cup championships, 60 Cup wins and 224 wins across NASCAR’s national series, he has nothing to prove. Even many of his detractors rate him as one of the best wheelmen ever in stock car racing.

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A few weeks away from turning the calendar in a big way, Busch talked about that move, his latest views on safety issues and his son Brexton’s focus on racing in an interview with NBC Sports.

Busch won only one race in 2022 and failed to advance out of the first round of the playoffs. Over a stretch of 16 races across much of the second half of the season, he had a top finish of ninth. It was a very un-Busch-like year, one that became tougher as he dealt with the impending departure of long-time sponsor M&Ms and the likelihood that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Q. The season didn’t go as well as you would have liked. How much of that was about the cars and how much of it was about all the other stuff swirling around you? Was it possible to separate that from being on the track?

A. “I would say that the beginning of the year we actually started out fairly well. We had some decent runs. We sat on the pole and finished second at the Clash. We finished sixth at Daytona. We had a fast car at California, but we were overheating. We had to pull some of the radiator ductwork screen protector stuff out. We had top-five lap times throughout the second half of the race, but it just didn’t work out. We were going to win Vegas, leading laps there, racing with a teammate. The list can go on.

“We were really good the first half of the year, then it was right around Nashville where we were running second and we should have stayed out on the final caution but didn’t. We pitted. We ran 22nd. After that, it seemed like we fell off the rails. Nothing we tried, nothing we did could ever really materialize.”

MORE: Hailie Deegan moves to ThorSport Truck team for 2023

“That was around the same time of the year that it was known that I was most likely not going to return to the 18 car. I feel like there was definitely a bit of a downturn in competition and stuff like that. It’s hard to prove, obviously, but it felt like things didn’t really feel the same after that. We kind of went the rest of the year struggling to find our way. Felt like a boat in water with no propellers. Couldn’t go anywhere. Even when we did have decent runs and had opportunities to run up front or score a win – we blew up at Darlington while leading, we blew up at Bristol while running top five. That pretty much eliminated us from contention for the remainder of the year.

“Martin Truex went winless for the season. Denny Hamlin was very, very, very hit or miss through the beginning two-thirds of the season until we got to the final 10 and they really hit their stretch and were consistent. But he only won two races. Christopher Bell was kind of like Denny. They only had one win going into the playoffs, and then they kind of found their way a little more toward the end of the year, and they had a couple of clutch wins at Charlotte and Martinsville. As a company, I would say that Joe Gibbs Racing was down for the year for wins and being as strong a Toyota conglomerate as we once were. I feel like the new car hindered us a little more than the other makes.”

Q. You’re at the point in your life with this Gibbs change where you could have done almost anything. You could have become Brexton’s full-time racing director or you could have looked for a ride in another series or you could have just gone to the Caribbean and hung out. Do feel like you still have some things to prove in NASCAR, or did you just want to keep racing?

A. “Both. I remember 2015 (when he missed 11 races after leg injuries in a crash at Daytona International Speedway) pretty vividly and being on the sidelines and not being able to race and be in a race car. I missed it. I give this world of NASCAR our life, if you will. Everything I’ve got. It’s a lot of stress. It’s a lot of agony at times. But it’s all rewarding and worth it when you’re able to win and be successful and have fun doing it. I’d admit the last few years haven’t been fun. It could have been a point where you shut everything down and walk away, and it’s over. It would be a crying shame to do that in one’s prime feeling like I still have at least five or six years left in me as long as I stay healthy and keep going on that front.

“The other piece to this is I kind of looked at it, and there was that point where I didn’t know if I was going to have anything. I was like, “OK, I’m going to have to become comfortable mentally if this is it.” Fortunately, Austin Dillon called me (about driving for RCR), and we got to talking on that front, and I thought, “You know, this could be really something cool where I can have something like a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning effect.” I’ve said that a couple of times, and I mean it. I’d really, really, really love to go somewhere else and make a difference and bring one of our longest-tenured race teams, Richard Childress Racing, back to the forefront of winning and contending for championships and winning one. Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. in 1994 was the last one. I would like to think that I still have that ability. I definitely know I have the drive and desire to do that. It’s just a matter of having all the right people in all the right places and making it happen.”

Q. Do you expect to be able to charge out of the gate there, or is it going to take a while for everybody to get used to everybody?

A. “I expect to come right out of the gate and get going and be fast right away. I hope that comes to fruition and starts at the Clash. Last year, (Tyler) Reddick qualified second and blew my doors off in the first 15 laps of the race and drove away and had a big lead, and then they ended up breaking, and I inherited the lead. Then (Joey) Logano ended up beating me, and Austin Dillon finished third. I feel like there’s a really good sense of a baseline to be able to go out there and be fast and competitive right out of the gate and look good like we need to. I don’t think it will take much time. Fast cars cure all.”

Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother and a former Cup champion, was sidelined this season with concussion-like symptoms after a hard crash at Pocono Raceway. He seems unlikely to return to full-time competition.

Q. Kurt obviously had a serious accident this year. Did that have any kind of impact on what you think you want to do going forward? You’ve had your own bad wrecks, but he was taken out essentially by that accident. What was that like for you?

A. “I sympathize with him because I was out with injury at one point for 11 weeks. Mine was bones, which are easier to fix, but I don’t know that his type of injury had any weight on my decisions. I know it had weight and still carries weight today or our drivers council and the work that Jeff Burton and all those guys do in discussions with NASCAR to make sure these cars are as safe as we can make them. We had some of these discussions early on when we saw schematics (of the Next Gen car) two years ago. I guess nobody thought it was real that we thought somebody would get hurt, and here we are. Regardless, Kurt’s injury didn’t have anything to do with me making my decision.”

Q. Are you satisfied going into next year as far as safety issues are concerned?

A. “Yes. I feel like we always could do more. That’s sort of our push on NASCAR. We’re too reactive, and the reactive state of making changes is so slow. Like they have to go through a design process. They have to go through a crash-test process. They have to go through a build process. They have to have enough parts built to distribute to the teams to have enough cars to allow us to run it. They’ve created a disaster with this car and all the processes it takes — when they came down with the fact that you have to buy from single-source suppliers instead of teams being able to do the majority of work themselves and get everything caught up faster. It’s a process. It’s tough. It’s hard. I get it. I don’t think drivers are very patient people. We’re never going to be satisfied that everything happens fast enough.”

Q. What’s your latest thinking on the possibility of trying the Indy 500?

A. “Everything has kind of gone dark. Unfortunately, the teams with Chevrolet powerplants all kind of have deals lined up. IndyCar racing in general is sort of stretched thin on people right now. To do a fourth effort at one of those teams – to go out and find enough people to do it – doesn’t make sense and isn’t going to work. I know being a race team owner on the truck side that if we wanted to run a fourth truck it would be really difficult to do. The people you get to do that aren’t people who necessarily travel every week and know the ins and outs of the race track. I understand the dynamic of that. It’s not yet the right time.”

MORE: Dr. Diandra explores relationship between experience and Next Gen success

Q. With Brexton, you probably put him in cars to have fun and see if he liked it. Obviously, he has talent for this. Can you pick out a point where it kind of moved from being a fun thing to this could work into something bigger?

A. “It was his sixth birthday. We had a race. We had run for about six months and weren’t doing very well. When he turned 6, it was like a switch flipped. I basically told him, ‘No more baby (stuff). You’re 6 years old. You’re a big boy. Let’s go.’ He went out there, and he was passing cars and getting more aggressive. He goes through waves and swings. He’s really brave, really aggressive. Hasn’t wrecked for a while. Then he has a wreck, and you have to go through the rebuilding of the confidence to build his confidence back up. This last year has been really, really good. We show up at the track. He knows what to do and expect. He’s kind of like, leave me alone. Which is great. It’s a lot easier to pull a rope than to push one. We’re moving him up into different cars and different divisions. People ask, ‘Well, what’s his plan?’ I really have no idea. I really haven’t sat down and worked out a pathway of what to do and where to go.”

Q. How do you determine what’s successful for him?

A.”To me, it’s relative to competition. We went to a couple of races in the Midwest this year, and he raced against these kids in Junior Sprints. Not to bash anyone, but he raced against six or eight other kids, and he destroyed them. There was a fast kid out in the Midwest who Brexton beat a couple of times and he beat Brexton a couple of times. How I judge him is how he does against the competition that shows up. His year this year in the Beginning Box Stock division at Millbridge (Speedway near Salisbury, N.C.) — he ran third in points, but the ones who beat him were 9 years old. The age group is supposed to be 5 to 8. They got grandfathered in and ran another year against Brexton. We won the most races, but we got behind in points and finished third. Next year Brexton will be turning 8 and will finish the year running Beginning Box. The Millbridge crowd is very, very good. It’s probably the most competitive group of racers in the country. We’ve traveled around a lot, and I’d say our home track is the toughest in the country.”

Q. Has he scared you yet?

A. “The first really scary crash… he was warming up and just figuring out how to race and letting the car drift a little sideways and getting faster. It got loose and he lifted and he was already turned right to catch the slide. The car hooked and went straight into the wall on the frontstretch. When I was 15 and coming out of Legends cars and getting my feet wet in Super Late Models, I did exactly the same thing. I was like, ‘Wow, this is ironic.’ But it taught him that you can crash and you’re OK. It broke his helmet. That was probably the scariest one. He’s flipped once. I wasn’t there to see it. Mom was scared, but Brex got out and said, ‘Hey, can we fix it and race later?’ That was good. He’s a racer’s racer. He’s got it going on.”

Q. Last question: Before you walked out of the candy store the last time, did you take a forklift and get a bunch of boxes of candy bars?

A. “Fortunately, I still have an awesome relationship with all the M&Ms folks and the brand people. I did ask for a shipment of stuff back in August. They have another brand, too, called CocoaVia — some nutritional supplements and stuff like that. I asked if they could send it. They showed up yesterday. I can still call upon those guys. They’re great. It’s just really unfortunate for NASCAR and Joe Gibbs Racing and for me and for all of us that M&Ms, which has been a proud supporter of NASCAR for 32 years is no longer with us. Everybody is going to miss that iconic M&Ms paint scheme being on the track, especially the kids. I’m going to miss seeing all the young fans wearing that stuff and cheering us on all the time. But I’m looking forward to them wearing the new stuff with the 8 car and cheering us on at RCR. It’s just going to be a little different.”

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.

 

Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22

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While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.