The news is now official. Kyle Busch will no longer race for Joe Gibbs Racing once the checkered flag drops at the Phoenix Raceway this November. That’s almost hard to fathom. The only multi-time NASCAR Cup Series champion in the garage, one that’s reached victory lane 60 times, 56 of which with JGR, was allowed to not only seek other opportunities, but to find out as well.
How did we get here?
Well it was a perfect storm I feel.
You have to go back to last winter. With Mars announcing that they would be leaving, it made for a lot of sleepless nights in both camps.
Still, it’s Kyle Busch.
Most have to be wondering, where did this all go wrong though? I mean Busch was willing to take a pay cut and you still let him get away. That’s unfathomable.
This is a generational driver. However, it’s not unprecedented in sport to see such an iconic star don the uniform of another team. Lebron James has been with multiple teams. Michael Jordan didn’t even retire a Bull. He left for the Washington Wizards. Tom Brady is currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Peyton Manning retired with the Denver Broncos. Joe Montana retired with the Kansas City Chiefs.
You get the point.
So for Busch to likely end his career with an organization other than JGR isn’t out of the sports world realm. In racing though, it’s not like it’s all that common though.
Jeff Gordon raced his entire career with Hendrick Motorsports. So did Jimmie Johnson. So did Richard Petty. Dale Earnhardt did switch teams early but made his career with RCR. He never left again.
Busch was allowed to get away though with money not even being a reason as to why.
JGR would say it was money because they couldn’t make dollars and sense to bring him back. What’s bizarre is, RCR was.
Last Winter/Early Spring
As far as what sparked this? It’s Mars’ decision to get this ball rolling. Then, JGR thought they were close to landing that big sponsor to keep Busch but at the 12th hour, that sponsor backed out.
It was already spring time and less than a year away from the 2023 Daytona 500. They were back to square one. Those 2 factor played the biggest role in this because the longest supporter was gone and a replacement backed out late in the game.
JGR just struggled to find any momentum in finding another sponsor after. As weeks turned into months, the noise was getting louder and louder that Busch truly may have to find somewhere else to go.
The 3 factors that really took this to further heights entered the conversation. Tyler Reddick, Ty Gibbs and Austin Dillon are really to look at in terms of what got this off the ground and pointing Busch to a new direction.
Tyler Reddick won the July 3 race at Road America. It was his first career Cup win. Richard Childress really thought he found gold by bringing Reddick on the last two years and was as excited as ever for the future of RCR.
He knew that there was an option to be decided on for 2023 and then the 2 would reevaluate for 2024 and beyond. Childress felt the burden of not being able to provide Reddick the cars and equipment needed to succeed. Now, he felt like he finally was able to give Reddick that and the two could really have a long term future together.
“It’s great to see Tyler Reddick in the winner’s circle,” Childress said after their Road America victory. “It wasn’t a matter of if he was going to do it, it was when they were going to win. That’s what we kept telling them. Had a couple of meetings, all of us, and talked about what it’s going to take to get us in the winner’s circle, and that’s not beat yourself and be solid, and that’s what these guys did today, and they did that.
“I’ve watched Tyler since he was running the trucks. He struggled a little bit there, but he was always driving the trucks to their limit. Then when he got in the Xfinity at JR Motorsports, he was the same. He drove — he’s got so much talent, he just pushes that limit every week. I was just proud of what these guys have done and accomplished, and it’s been a huge team effort.”
11 days after winning with RCR, Tyler Reddick awkwardly appeared on a Toyota zoom call. Some thought it was a joke. Then Reddick sits down next to Denny Hamlin and the 2 sides announce a deal for the 2024 season.
Big note there – 2024.
Reddick thought he was doing right by riding out his contract with RCR and leaving at the end of the next season. However, how it was handled had a direct hand in landing Kyle Busch too.
Childress was pissed.
Reddick and Childress both admitted that Childress wasn’t aware of Reddick’s intentions until the morning of the announcement. Childress was hurt and felt like he was owed a little more respect to be able to make this a mutual thing instead of one sided.
This wasn’t the first time this has happened to Childress. Kevin Harvick, their best driver since Dale Earnhardt left after the 2013 season. It was a deal announced in 2012.
Harvick made Childress aware.
“Well, Kevin and I talked through his whole deal and we made a joint announcement. He won four races that year, and we almost won the championship,” Childress said. “This one didn’t happen like that.”
Instead, they were blindsided with no shot to have their own spin on it.
“Well, after they made their announcement, I met — I thought about it a lot that night, gave it a lot of thought, and it’s more than just about one person,” Childress said. “It’s about a team. Stayed up most of the night thinking about what I should do, how I wanted to handle it.
“I went in the next day and told the whole team it wasn’t a perfect circumstance the way it went down, but we’re going to give it everything we’ve got this year, and we’ll see where we go next year.”
What Led Reddick to 23XI?
Some may wonder what led Reddick to Toyota. When Hamlin found out that Tyler Reddick could be available for the 2024 season, he went to Toyota to see their thoughts and if/when they could open up dialogue with Reddick. With their blessing, Hamlin pounced.
“I watched him. I raced against him. I wanted him and I got him,” Hamlin said via the Toyota call. “It made sense to me; you look at his age, his runway that he has, franchise drivers don’t come around that often. And so, if there’s ever one that you feel like you can grab, you go after, you do whatever it takes to make that happen and then you work on the details later.”
When they found out Reddick didn’t have a contract in place for 2023, Hamlin and 23XI Racing in general knew they had to move quickly. With a talented cast of drivers that are going to be on the market, Reddick would be among the top of everyone’s list.
Just look at how 23XI Racing says about Reddick and what RCR says about the same departing driver.
“One thing whether you know Tyler (Reddick) or you just watch him, how he holds himself, how he races, he’s a good dude and he’s got the character that meshes well with us,” David Wilson said of Reddick. “We’re honored and flattered that he would consider being a part of our team. And this is a direct reflection on Michael (Jordan), Denny (Hamlin), Steve (Lauletta), the 23XI organization begin well ahead of schedule, and reflects our long-term commitment to their success.”
Hamlin was equally as pleased.
“All we know is we wanted him and we made sure we planted our feet deep in the ground to make sure Tyler (Reddick) had an opportunity with this race team, and we made it happen,” he says.
“Tyler is one of the most sought-after young drivers and has been competitive in everything he’s raced. His work on the track speaks for itself and he will make a fantastic addition to our lineup in 2024. The team has seen a lot of growth since our first race and signing Tyler is a great next step for us to remain competitive for years to come.”
Kurt Busch backed his car into the Turn 3 wall at Pocono in qualifying and as a result, had to miss not only the race the following day, but he’s not been back since.
Ty Gibbs fills in for Busch in his first ever time he’s ever sat behind the wheel of a Cup Next Gen car. He impressed with a top 20 finish in his debut.
Kyle Busch was open and candid in the shadows of Gasoline Alley admitting that he’s running out of options to race in 2023 and that he’s willing to take concessions to make it work.
“A lot of sleepless nights,” he says of this process.
It’s certainly carrying a burden on his shoulders. What makes this troublesome for him is that he’s willing to take a paycut to drive still.
“I’ve already admitted that I’m willing to take concessions,” Busch said of his contract negotiations. “I feel like the market is different than what it was years ago and willing to raise for under my market value. So whenever that comes to be it’s obviously a negotiation and then figuring out where I go and what the long term play is what the short term play is, and, you know, hopefully not being able to go through this again.”
He says everything is on the table right now. He’s talking 2023 options, 2024 options. His whiteboard is full. Hell he’s even talking to other teams
“I mean, anything’s on the table,” he says.
He’s heard the things being said about silly season and to where he’s going to end up. They don’t upset him. They in fact give him ideas to reach out to teams that he’s being linked to that he’s hasn’t yet discussed.
“Yeah, no, you definitely get a kick out of it,” he says. “It’s kind of funny because there’s actually some ideas thrown that I haven’t thought of. You’re like, oh, I might want to explore that one. But obviously it’s just it’s a mess right now. Trying to sort through it all is that the best I can and really, it’s there’s a lot of factors that go into this and really, I don’t I don’t want to be going through.”
Busch maintains that his first goal is to still remain at JGR and with Toyota. That hasn’t changed throughout this entire process.
“But that unicorn hasn’t fallen out of the sky or 20 million bucks or whatever it is, and I don’t think it needs to be that number,” he says. “Because obviously there’s a there’s a number in that that then pays a driver and I’ve already said that I’m willing to take concessions and race for under my market value and go forward and being able to stay in the seat that I’ve made home for the last 15 years.”
Busch says this sport has evolved to where you need to have sponsors to continue on.
“It’s not it’s it’s not as simple as being a basketball player and being a Michael Jordan or LeBron James or something like that,” he says. “And being a really good player and the team losing a sponsor and then saying, Okay, Michael, LeBron, you guys, we got to let you go. We can’t afford you know what I mean? So again, you have to have some sponsorship on the car and unfortunately, right now, there’s just not, there’s not that unicorn, there’s not that big $20 million number out there. So we’re, I’d like to be able to piece it together but haven’t heard much on that yet.
“Yeah, I mean, I hate to make comparisons but somebody told me this a week or so ago. It’d be like Dale Earnhardt in 1998, three or four years after winning his last championship being on the free market agency and not having a ride. You know what I mean? Like that just sounds crazy. So I don’t know what to do.”
Some within the industry speculated whether Reddick would just be let go early. Why delay the inevitable? Childress and Reddick weren’t speaking between the July 12 announcement and instead of creating friction within the building, why not just restructure the contract to end the option and let Reddick walk?
Then he’d go out and not only win the pole at Indianapolis, he’d win the race too.
“Winning helps,” Tyler Reddick said of his relationship with current boss Richard Childress.
“Yeah, Tyler will be in the car at RCR next year,” Childress confirmed.
Reddick also admitted that it was uneasy for a while but this win definitely helps their relationship, especially at Indy.
“Anytime you win at Indy, it’s always great,” Childress said. “This will be the fourth win on the Brickyard. We won one with Ty Dillon with the Xfinity, so we’ve won five times. Anytime you can get a win at Indy, it’s very special.
“I’ll congratulate him. I’ll congratulate the whole team,” Childress said. “The whole team did a great job. I’ll congratulate our sponsors.”
Reddick says that on his side, nothing has really changed from the announcement other than knowing where he’s going to be in the next year and a half.
“My commitment level, if anything, probably is a little bit higher, but I mean, we’re not talking like it’s a significant amount higher,” he said.
“I just know that we’ve had time to continue to work on our cars and make them better and grow as a team and go the right direction, and now it’s like, all right, we have a hard stop. This is the end of the road that we have together. For me that puts, I think, a good amount of pressure on me to just keep finding more, because we’re always trying to bring the best that we can to the racetrack, but when we know that the end is — it’s not really close, but we know when it’s going to be, we’ve got to take advantage of every single moment possible, and I hope, I feel like at least for me, it’s a good thing. I think it really makes me push hard, and I think it’s making the team push hard. We’re all working really hard together to give it every last ounce that we have out there and win as many races as we can.”
Austin Dillon sees his grandpa’s angst. Dillon is also trying to remain friends with Reddick. However, business is business and he sees an opportunity to help this family team get past this distraction quickly and land one of the most covered free agents in the history of the sport.
Dillon walks into Childress’ office and asks, why not Kyle Busch? Childress almost flabbergasted says that a hire like that would be huge but they would first need to meet. Childress knew Busch and Dillon were friends so he asked his grandson to set up a meeting.
Both sides met to talk.
Busch already admitted that he had to talk to outside teams. He said that they were willing to take less money but wanted to make it work with the Truck Series team and secure Brexton’s future as well as his. It was all about landing somewhere between “x and y” but if someone offered “z then let’s go.”
Nothing was signed yet between Busch and RCR but Toyota knew something was close. They didn’t want to lose Busch but the damage was already done. Even in their words of not wanting to compete against a pissed off Kyle Busch in 2023, Toyota tried to use some words in the media to make a last ditch effort.
Summers Months Through Now
Denny Hamlin and 23XI Racing have been clear from the get go. This hiring of Tyler Reddick was long term focused. They weren’t just going to bring Reddick over for 2023 just to clear some animosity.
Does Reddick come over early? Sounded like that wasn’t even being discussed. 23XI admitted that they made this deal for Reddick so they can plan. They’re not interested in buying him out early nor are they wanting to expand to a 3rd full time car. It’s too late for all the above.
They admitted that bringing the team into the fold for the 2021 season but announcing it in October of 2020 was rushed. Bringing a 2nd car a year later for Kurt Busch was quick. By announcing Reddick in July 2022 to come over in January 2024 would allow them to breathe and make this work to plan.
Why deviate now?
Plus, RCR was committed to Reddick already for 2023 so if you’re 23XI, just sit back and see how this plays out.
All the while, Kurt Busch still isn’t coming back yet and Ty Gibbs is flourishing in his interim. He was 10th at Michigan in just his 3rd career start. As we sit here today, he has 5 top 17 finishes in 8 tries. JGR knows they’re likely to lose Busch, Gibbs is looking like he’s legit and a ride could be open.
Why not explore this path because it would also be cheaper.
Reddick is doing well and willing to honor his word. 23XI isn’t willing to buy him out. Busch is still a free agent and Gibbs is thriving in Kurt Busch’s car. It was a perfect storm brewing. Dillon and Kyle Busch get along and the two sides met with Richard Childress.
Childress can get a 3rd charter and can stash Reddick there, Busch is a future and he can take over the 8 and Chevrolet and RCR are willing to help Busch with his Truck program and even offer Brexton a future contract.
Present – Is Gibbs Ready?
He’s Joe Gibbs’ grandson for crying out loud. He’s not racing for anyone else outside of the Toyota camp without Gibbs’ hand on it. Not now, not ever.
So they had a smart plan in place. Limited NASCAR Xfinity Series starts in 2021, a full-time slate in 2022 and again in 2023 and then evaluate if he’s ready for a jump to Cup in 2024.
It was even more clear when Martin Truex Jr. finally signed a one-year agreement to stay in the No. 19 Toyota for JGR for the 2023 season. This was likely Gibbs’ seat for 2024. Truex could return on a one more year basis getting a retirement tour and Gibbs could groom for 2024 while knowing he had 1 more year in Xfinity competition in 2023.
It clearly has changed for the good for him now. I have to think that the brass at JGR started questioning this plan moving forward.
Does it do any good to make Gibbs come back to the Xfinity Series next year now?
Then with Kurt Busch being injured at Pocono and Gibbs doing a marvelous job of filling in for him in the interim, the writing was on the wall, elevate Gibbs up to replace Busch. He’ll be cheaper, you can try that avenue to secure sponsorship for the 18 car.
What good is it for Gibbs to come back to JGR in the Xfinity Series next season?
Yes, it’s rushing him up a bit, but compared to Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and William Byron, it’s not as quickly as them and one could say Gibbs is having more success than those Cup stars in the Xfinity Series than they ever did.
Logano had just 19 NXS starts and 1 Truck start before moving up to replace Tony Stewart in the 20 car with JGR for the 2009 season. Larson had 33 Xfinity Series starts and only 6 Truck races under his belt before being with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2014 Cup season. Byron also had just 1 full year in NXS and 1 full year in Trucks before moving up with Hendrick Motorsports.
Gibbs has 43 starts and counting in the Xfinity Series which is more than any of those three made before they went full time Cup racing. Gibbs has more wins (9) than those 3 had combined (5). He has 19 top 5’s. Byron has 12, Larson 9 and Logano 5. His 860 laps led is more than the trio combined to lead too with Logano leading 278 laps, Byron 262 and Larson 102.
He’s done more than the Cup guys now that were rushed up. What do you gain by having him come back to the Xfinity Series another season? The two cars are completely different now with the Next Gen racing nothing like the Xfinity Series car.
It’s also why that’s making Gibbs’ 8 Cup races in the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing so impressive in that because he had never even sat in a Cup car before hopping into Busch’s at Pocono the day of the race. No practice, no qualifying and a top 20 finish. He nearly scored a top 10 at Michigan in his 3rd ever Cup start.
He needs to be a Cup driver now. He’s proven to be ready. He’s shown that stashing him in the Xfinity Series for 2023 is pointless. Practice race craft? He clearly has it now. 9 wins speak for itself. An 11th place finish in his 3rd Cup start does too.
So what does that do to JGR’s future?
Truex is likely only back for one more year. Denny Hamlin in 41. They’re losing KBM in the process so they don’t have a place to groom younger drivers anymore before they get to the Xfinity Series level.
Christopher Bell and Gibbs are the future of the Cup team with them needing to figure out how to make Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith, John Hunter Nemechek and Corey Heim next in line.