How does one define greatness? Is it winning a championship? Is it victories? Well Kurt Busch has all those accolades one could covet when first joining the racing scene. What about making team better than what they were before you showed up? What about bridging smaller teams from nobody’s, to somebody’s?
What about leaving something better than when you joined?
That’s Kurt Busch.
However, Busch never wanted it to end this way, a qualifying crash at Pocono. In wake of that July 23 crash though, his long-term health is much more a priority than risking getting behind the wheel of a stock car and competing in one of the most dangerous sports on this planet. It’s why Busch decided this week to call it a career in terms of full-time racing and announce not his retirement, but a step back in the place to where his racing career all started.
It’s been in my mind, a first ballot Hall of Fame type career for Busch which is all he can ask for. The 44-year old was born and raised in Las Vegas and grew up racing in the shadows of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Now, nearly four decades later, it’s near the same spot that Busch announced he’ll walk away.
“This NASCAR village is my home and I love it here,” said Busch. “28 years ago, I stood in this area of the desert and took a glamour shot with my first race car, which I built with my dad and my family. Racing is all I have ever known. My passion, worth ethic, and persistence have helped me reach all the dreams that a kid could dream.
“There is not one reason why or one person or one circumstance that has made a stronger difference than another. It has taken everything and everyone. With that said, I know I’m not 100% in my ability to go out and race at the top level in the NASCAR Cup Series. These are the best of the best drivers and lately, I haven’t felt my best.
“The doctors have come to the conclusion that it is best for me to ‘shut it down’ for this season. Even though I have made solid gains since I have been working with top specialists, and the team at Toyota Performance Center, I’m still not 100% and I’m still not cleared to compete.
“As I continue to focus on my health and work towards being cleared, I will be stepping away from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition in 2023. My long-term health is priority No. 1, and I don’t feel committing at this point to compete for a championship next year is in my best interest or the best interest of the team.”
You can’t discredit his bravery here. When he first started racing, it was an era to where drivers would have hidden what Busch was feeling. They’d mask their symptoms just to get back in the car and have another go at it a week later.
This is a different time in the sport.
You don’t see drivers taping their eyes open just to race. They care about their futures more than their nows and that’s a commendable thing because at one point of his career, Busch could have hopped back in the car and put not only his life in danger but his fellow peers on track too by racing with how he’s currently feeling.
Instead, Busch even with a playoff berth in hand, took himself out of the postseason and waited, hoping he’d feel better. When days became weeks which have now turned to months, he felt like it was best for he and the organization if he walked away now.
It allows Tyler Reddick to come over early and saves both the team and RCR a lot of money and hassle because the uncertainty surrounding him could have affected a lot. Instead, Busch took the uncertainty away.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with 23XI and this team of wonderful professionals and appreciate the support they have shown me over the last few months,” continued Busch. “I will continue to work with this group with the wisdom and knowledge gained from the Ph.D. I’ve earned in this garage area. We’re building something special here and I look forward to continuing working with Bubba [Wallace] off the track as well as Tyler Reddick, who will join the team next year to drive the No. 45 Toyota.
“I will continue to be a brand ambassador with Monster Energy who are my family. Our fraternity and sorority of athletes are the best of the best. Monster Energy and I have been together for over a decade and been around the world conquering a ‘lifestyle in a can.’
“Toyota and TRD remain part of my future as well. They have embraced me like a long-lost brother, and I’m grateful for this support. We will continue going places together.”
This new Busch is one that has come a long ways from when the highly tempered one jumped into the scene.
Busch was an aggressive driver that ruffled a lot of feathers in the wrong way, even his brothers. They had an incident during the 2007 All-Star race that put them no speaking terms for months. He had his run-ins with Jimmy Spencer. He had his spats with reporters, team members and even owners.
Busch’s antics grew wary and went so far, Penske let him go following the 2011 season. His once promising career was now in shambles. The best ride he could get was with Phoenix Racing. It was a massive humbling experience for the former series champion.
Still, it was the next few years to where Busch turned his life and his racing career back around. With Phoenix Racing, he gave them their best finishes. He had a top 10 in just his 5th start in with them. He was 3rd in Sonoma and ended the 2012 season with three consecutive top 10 finishes.
That led him to Furniture Row Racing in 2013 and really kickstarted FRR from the field fuller to the championship winning organization that they became in 2017 with Martin Truex Jr.
Busch didn’t win with them, but he did have 10 top 5 finishes and 15 top 10 finishes and was 10th in the final standings.
His reputation was now back on the positive side which led him back to a top team with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014. It only took him 6 races to win with them and by doing so, allowed him the opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport. It’s a race to where Busch finished 6th in earning him Rookie of the Year honors. Pulling double duty and his new attitude helped his image.
2012, 2013 and 2014 was great success in his likeness and image. Busch seemed like a better man and a great role model for his girlfriend’s son.
However, a domestic dispute occurred with a past girlfriend which left his character in question all over again. After spending three years showing the world that he’s changed and paying his dues, here we go again.
It forced him out of his new car for the first three races of the 2015 while the investigation played out. Luckily for Busch, nothing really ever came out of it and he returned to his seat at Phoenix to where he immediately earned a top 5. He won twice that 2015 season and was 8th in the final standings.
2 years later he won the Daytona 500.
This new Busch was the one that we never saw coming. He was better with the media, better with his teammates, better with the garage as a whole and it was showing. He joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019 and took on a leadership role and it’s one that he thrived in.
He won all three of his seasons with Ganassi and brought them back from a midfield team to a playoff organization.
He joined 23XI Racing for the 2022 season and won with them too. It’s why he’s revitalized his career to a no-brainer first ballot Hall of Famer if you ask me.
He’s won races with Ford, with Chevrolet, with Dodge and with Toyota. He’s won races for Roush, Stewart-Haas, Ganassi and 23XI. He helped build Phoenix and FRR up from the ashes to a contending race team.
“Kurt’s decision to step away from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition next year is certainly not something anyone expected when we started the season together and celebrated in victory lane at Kansas Speedway earlier this year,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development
“Unfortunate circumstances led Kurt to a difficult decision, but we know that he will continue to contribute to the entire program at Toyota, TRD and 23XI Racing. He brings a tremendous amount of knowledge and firsthand championship experience to his team and fellow Toyota competitors. We’re here to support Kurt in this next chapter of his career and look forward to continuing to work alongside him.”
Everywhere he’s left he’s helped make that team better. Everywhere he’s joined, he’s raised them up and elevated them to a better organization.
“For more than two decades, we have been privileged to watch Kurt Busch compete. He has proven himself a champion on the racetrack, but perhaps just as importantly, he has grown to become a true ambassador for the sport,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “Kurt’s drive to improve the future of motorsports has set him apart. We are thrilled that he’ll remain in our sport as a leader and trusted resource. Kurt’s unparalleled passion for racing gives us hope that we will see him in a race car again.”
A 2004 champion, a 2017 Daytona 500 champion, a 2010 All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 winner, a 2003 IROC champion and 2014 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. That’s a hell of a career if you ask me and one that shows that Busch is as good as it gets and shows that anyone can change for the better.
The Busch leaving the sport, is better than the one that joined. Fitting.
“And to all the NASCAR fans, I can’t thank you enough for your support throughout the journey this year and all the years,” Busch said. “Your notes and words of encouragement have meant a lot to me. I’ve also been blessed throughout my career to race with so many great teams, teammates and sponsors. All those people I’ve met along the way have made the journey up to now that much more special.
“I’m still competitive, passionate, and I want to continue to perform at my core values, and to give back to a community that has been my life since I left Las Vegas to pursue a professional racing career over 22 years ago. Next year my contributions to racing may look a little different, but I will continue to give my best to this sport. And, if I’m cleared, maybe you’ll see me at select races.”