NASCAR Xfinity Series
Jeremy Clements Wins One for The Little Guys and Old Ones Too
Aug 27, 2022
Toyota Racing Development president and general manager David Wilson can’t place a percentage on his chances of keeping Kyle Busch in the fold because it changes day-by-day.
Meanwhile, for his part, the two-time Cup Series champion offered no status update during a media availability on Saturday prior to the Coke Zero Sugar 400. There are several suitors who could put a deal together for Busch, which could mean a team from a different manufacturer or remaining with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Wilson still wants that manufacturer to be Toyota and still sees a path to making it happen.
"As a manufacturer in this sport, we are doing what we can to keep Kyle in our family," Wilson said during a scrum in the media center at Daytona on Saturday afternoon. "This is not just an offensive consideration. I don't want to race against a pissed off Kyle Busch. Wherever he lands, he is going to do some damage. As I've said before, it's been a lot of heavy lifting and that hasn't changed."
Wilson said the negotiations are very 'dynamic' and every day brings a new twist, opportunity or dynamic.
"Hopefully one of these irons will catch and manifest themselves," Wilson said. "I have no doubt Kyle Busch will be driving a Cup car in this sport next year. The question is where."
Wilson would not comment on any contract offers made or not made by Gibbs but said it is his desire to see Busch race a Toyota in some capacity -- leaving two options between Gibbs and 23XI Racing. The latter is owned by veteran Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin and sports icon Michael Jordan, who currently holds the contract for Kyle’s older brother Kurt.
Kurt Busch is currently sidelined with concussion symptoms and will not return in time for the playoffs. He has been replaced over the past month by Ty Gibbs, a young prodigy seen as the future of Joe Gibbs Racing. For Kyle Busch, part of the ever-evolving dynamic is what his brother does next season and also where Joe Gibbs would like to place his grandson, who by all accounts is ready for a full-time Cup Series opportunity in 2023.
Wilson said a deal surely needs to come together during the playoffs and would be near-impossible to complete should it stretch out into the winter months.
"This is a much more different deal to orchestrate and like so many things, it’s interwoven," Wilson said. "It’s not just one domino. The first domino falls and then it creates a cascade."
That includes Kurt Busch, who Wilson says has a working assumption will be back at 23XI Racing next season because he remains contracted to do so until that isn’t the case.
There is a sentiment out there that if Wilson and TRD values Busch so much, why not pick up the financial burden of his salary instead of requiring Joe Gibbs Racing to find the funding it needs as a prerequisite for extending the 15-year relationship it has with its veteran driver.
Wilson says that’s just not part of the modus operandi of a NASCAR manufacturer.
"We have a role to play in this sport, from the time we started racing here in 2007 in the Cup Series, we have respected this sport and the position and responsibility we have in this sport," Wilson said. "And it’s not our responsibility to become puppeteers and own drivers or race teams.
"Joe Gibbs Racing offers contracts to drivers. We do have personal services agreements with our drivers and that’s because they are our ambassadors but it’s not our role to backstop. That’s not what we do."
Busch and Gibbs find themselves in this position because longtime sponsor Mars, manufacturer of M&MS and Skittles, announced at the start of the season that it would not return after the 2022 season. Without a partner to account for the driver's salary -- and Busch has commanded amongst the largest in the discipline -- Gibbs could not immediately offer an extension.
That Busch hasn’t always been the most positive or popular character in the sport has played a role in the struggles to secure sponsorship, conceded the Toyota executive. His prolific winning percentage across all three national tours and two championships isn’t enough in this market to secure sponsorship.
Any driver also must become an ambassador for their partners.
"Of course," Wilson said. "It’s not enough to be the best driver. Kyle Busch is in the conversation of greatest of all time. Again, he’s our 60-home run hitter and he is in the process of breaking every record we have ever seen. That’s not good enough in this sport. You need corporate America to drive this ship in our sport. Whether that’s a good thing or not, is not for me to say, but it is a fact."
Now again, all parties involved are not discussing contractual
matters in public, and Busch explained on Saturday why he’s not talking
about it in the open. He was twice asked about contracts and he declined both times.
"This is not the place to start airing any dirty laundry," Busch said. "Just trust me, in time things will work out, and what happens, happens. Again, answering that question could either be a positive for me or detrimental for me. So, it's fair to say I cannot answer those sort of questions."
Busch opened up last weekend at Watkins Glen about his emotional and mental state over the past year as he has gone through this complicated free agency process. The interview was notable in how vulnerable Busch allowed himself to appear in the public spotlight.
It’s an obvious stark contrast to his usual antagonistic or sarcastic approach to the media. Wilson said Toyota or Gibbs hasn’t suggested that he show a different side of his personality but offered that he made that choice independently.
"He’s been an absolute prince," Wilson said of the recent change of public tune. "And he absolutely knows how to do that. At his core, he knows that he’s auditioning for someone and he’s well served to be that Kyle Busch. It’s not just (in front of the media) but also on an interpersonal level as well. He is making an effort. He absolutely is."