By Jerry Jordan, Editor
After months of negotiation and speculation, Kyle Busch announced Tuesday he will not return to Joe Gibbs Racing – where he has driven since 2008 and won two NASCAR Cup Series Championships for Toyota and M&Ms – instead, he will follow in the footsteps of Dale Earnhardt, someone he has been compared to for his racing style and ability.
News that Busch was leaving the JGR stable wasn’t exactly a surprise as their negotiations were perhaps the most monitored of any in Cup Series history. With 60 Cup Series wins, 102 Xfinity Series wins and 62 truck series wins, Busch is a first-ballot Hall of Fame driver that can drastically improve any team in the garage. But when M&M/Mars decided to end its sponsorship, it put Busch on the market. Even though JGR and Toyota wanted to keep Busch, they could find the funding.
In this case, an old but familiar motorsports icon won out in the negotiations for Busch’s future and he will drive for Richard Childress Racing.
“RCR has an impressive history in NASCAR and I’m honored that Richard is putting his trust in me to come in and continue to build on that legacy,” Busch said. “Growing up in a family of passionate racers myself, I feel like the culture that the Childress family has built within their organization will be an ideal fit for me. As I begin the next chapter of my career, I’m looking forward to driving for RCR and working with everyone there to add more wins and championships to both of our resumes.”
As part of a press release distributed ahead of a press conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Childress said he believes getting Busch in his stable – with a long-term contract – will go a long way in helping to improve RCR.
“The addition of Kyle Busch to the Richard Childress Racing lineup is significant, not only for our organization but for the sport as a whole,” said Richard Childress, Chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. “Kyle is a proven contender at the highest levels of the sport, and I believe that his experience and dedication to motorsports will elevate our race program across the board. I’ve always admired Kyle’s driving style and his ability to win and race for championships ever since he entered the sport. Who wouldn’t want a proven NASCAR Cup Series Champion driving their car?”
As part of his signing bonus and paying homage to a well-documented moment of anger as Childress once wanted to whip Busch’s ass. The feud went back to Homestead-Miami Speedway when Kevin Harvick, driving an RCR truck, wrecked Busch as he was battling for a truck series title. Childress said on the Dale Jr. Download podcast, that Busch still won the title but when Childress congratulated him sometime later, Busch quipped, “you know I am going to have to wreck your car.” After the two went back and forth a bit, Childress said he told Busch, “Well, you wreck my car and I’m gonna whip your ass.”
It took until Darlington for Busch to mete out his revenge and he wrecked Harvick’s RCR Cup car on pit road. Everyone (Joe Gibbs, Childress, Busch and Harvick) was called to the NASCAR hauler and both Harvick and Busch were placed on probation. A week, or so, later Busch roughed up Joey Coulter following a truck series race at Kansas Speedway and that set Childress off. He told someone walking with him to “hold my watch” and then he went after Busch, placing him in a headlock and landing several punches. Childress was about 65 years old at the time and Busch was 26.
“I just told him what I was going to do and I kept my word,” Childress said, on the show.
Knowing their past history would be a major topic of discussion during Tuesday’s press conference, Childress walked out on stage carrying a Rolex box and handed it to Busch, saying, “Well, you know, Kyle, the other week when we signed your contract, there was something I forgot to give you, it was your signing bonus. So, I’ve got to give you your signing bonus. Will you hold my watch?”
Kyle quickly responded, “absolutely” followed by Childress saying, “that’s all we’re going to talk about that.”
As recently as the pre-race festivities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Coach Joe Gibbs told Kickin’ the Tires that he wanted Busch racing for him. “Yes, yes,” he said when asked specifically about Busch returning to JGR. Busch said his decision was primarily based on his NASCAR Truck Series team, Kyle Busch Motorsports and its fate.
“Kyle has been a major part of our history and success here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Gibbs, in a statement released following the Busch/RCR announcement. “We are thankful for all his contributions to our organization over the years. When you look at all that he has accomplished already, it is truly remarkable, and we know someday we will be celebrating his Hall of Fame induction. We also know he still has many more achievements in our sport ahead of him including competing for the championship this season. We wish Kyle, Samantha, Brexton, and Lennix the very best.”
Busch previously said, “I would say that the Truck Series option with Kyle Busch Motorsports has probably made this situation 80 to 85 percent harder than if it was just me. I would have been done by now if it was just me.”
During the press conference, Busch address the truck team and said, KBM intends to run Chevrolets next season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series but the final details of those logistics have not, yet, been worked out. He said there are some issues still being looked at and reviewed but hopes to have another announcement on those issues soon.
“Obviously, there was an announcement today with RCR and Kyle Busch, KBM has not been a part of that yet,” Busch said, on Tuesday. “Although, we are still working on that, sort of, stuff with General Motors and Chevrolet. Kyle Busch Motorsports intends to compete in the truck series as a Chevrolet-branded team next year, whether that is two, three, four entries, we are not quite certain on that, yet, but we are working through those details.”
The contract negotiations seemed to bring out a side of Busch that most fans and media haven’t seen much of in the past. The process has been daunting and he admits it but he has tried to put forth a confident front at the racetrack.
“Trust me, my gut doesn’t feel good and that’s not just for decisions being made, but more so decisions being weighed and perception and how you come across to all of those that you’re going to disappoint,” Busch said, during NASCAR Playoff Media Day. “There’s going to be one winner and the rest are not winners if you look at it in that regard. Good for me, but I definitely don’t want to come across as a lead-on or a liar so that’s why it’s been touch and go and trying to tread lightly.
“Sure, it is tough. I think I said it at Watkins Glen that this is one of the toughest things I’ve had to do and either dwell on or look forward to, one or the other, for the last 15 years. You don’t want to have to do this again. I’m getting too old for this. A lot more gray hair this week or this year.”
Now, that the contracts are signed and both Busch’s and KBM’s fate sealed, he said he can focus on winning a third Cup Series Championship. That starts this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he has nine wins in the Cup Series, nine in the Xfinity Series and five in the truck series. Combined, that’s more than any other driver; however, Darrell Waltrip still holds the Cup Series win record at 12. That leaves Busch tied at nine with Cale Yarbrough, Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt.
“Ask Joe Gibbs how many times I have laid down as a driver, I think the answer is none,” Busch said.
As for Tyler Reddick, who is signed to drive for RCR in 2023 before moving to 23XI Racing in 2024, he will have a driving role at the company but as stated, he will be out of the No. 8 car.
“I met with him (Tyler Reddick) about an hour ago, and I explained to him that he wasn’t going to drive the 8 car next year,” Childress said. “We’ve got a contract for him to drive for RCR next year, and I wanted to talk to him before this official announcement.”