NASCAR Cup Series
The NASCAR Cup Playoffs Are Here and It's Wide Open
Sep 1, 2022
As if the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs were not enough of a pressure cooker by itself, Kyle Busch still doesn’t have a contract for next season and beyond and the negotiations seem poised to spill over into the first round of the playoffs.
His free agency process could end any day now or it could continue to stretch out over the next several weeks. Busch says he could return to Joe Gibbs Racing next season or he could end up somewhere else. Busch had had conversations in some form with Chevrolet team owners Matt Kaulig and Richard Childress as well.
Busch wants the right deal but knows it could bleed over into his championship pursuit.
"I was hoping yesterday," Busch said. "Needs to be. Again, I’m not going to put a timeline on it, but time is ticking and there are a lot of other options and a lot of other dominoes that need to fall. Just talking amongst others, I’m the first one that needs to go."
It’s complicated because Busch also comes attached to a successful Truck Series team that has also served as a valuable development pipeline for Toyota Racing Development over the past decade plus.
"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," Busch added. "I would have been done by now if it was just me."
Speaking to the media over the weekend at Daytona International Speedway, Toyota Racing Development president and general manager David Wilson said values the development ability that KBM has provided, and although retaining Rowdy and all that comes with him is the priority, the manufacturer does have contingency plans if Busch is no longer Toyota affiliated.
"Kyle Busch Motorsports is arguably the crown jewel in the Truck Series for driver development," Wilson said. "Part of my duties is to be strategic and have contingency plans. We have to look out at the horizon at the what if scenarios.
"Right now, our plan moving forward is KBM because Kyle is in a Toyota. Certainly, the good news is that we have other relationships in the garage in the Truck Series and have an embarrassment of riches in the Truck Series.
"If circumstances are such that KBM is no longer running Toyotas, we’ll be okay and we’re confident we can continue to take care of our young drivers."
Despite the distractions, Busch says the free agency process hasn’t affected his race craft at all, it’s more about how it has weighed on him during the work week. It’s all the ways that the process interferes with running his various businesses and being a husband and father.
But he is able to compartmentalize once he straps the helmet on.
"It weighs on you every time, every day of the week," Busch said. "But I think that the best thing that I have for me is to be experienced and being able to go race on Sundays. I’m a racer, that’s all I know, so when I get to the racetrack every weekend, I put my helmet on, that’s what I focus on. Being by myself is when I do my best work inside that car, when I just gotta worry about making that car go fast.
"So, you know, during the week, I probably have way more things to do or that’s going on than I’d like (instead) of being able to focus on making that car go fast on Sunday. But that will hopefully soon... be put to rest."
Busch has frequently spoken of sleepless nights and high stress over the summer weighing every option. He also is afraid of letting people down, even if he believes every potential outcome is a net positive. That's to say it's just complicated.
While conceding he does have multiple offers already on the table, he also doesn't want to negotiate through the media to create any misunderstandings with everyone he is talking to privately.
"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. "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."
Wilson has suggested over the weekend that Busch's polarizing nature may have contributed to the challenges in finding a sponsor to keep him in the No. 18. Even though Busch knows entirely how his public persona is perceived, he doesn't completely believe his sponsorship challenge is unique.
"I can go a lot of different ways with this answer, but I’ll state the obvious that obviously the perception is that it’s probably tougher being who I am to sell a sponsor, but I’m going to argue that fact too," Busch said. "Name me the last big five to 10 million dollar sponsor that’s come in our sport lately. Give me one (to media). So is that a Kyle problem or a sport problem?"
Does Busch anticipate having to be less 'Rowdy' moving forward?
"I feel like having the freedom of being able to act or react to certain situations the way that I could through the support of M&M’s allowed me to be as successful as I was on Sunday, 1000 percent," Busch said. "So will that have to change? Most likely. How much? 10 percent, 15 percent, I don’t know.
"Maybe it’s 18 percent that you have to change."
"But I don’t know what that is or what that looks like. So obviously, that’s still to be determined."
Busch has just one victory this season, at the Bristol Dirt Race, and enters as the No. 11 seed in a championship format that has never been won below the seventh.
"I do feel like we're a top-five, top-six team, and I don't think that the ones that are all in front of us are going to be perfect when it comes to making the round of 8," Busch said. "We can surprise. I wouldn't say we wold surprise ourselves but we could put ourselves in the (final) four."