After 15 seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch will have a new home. On Tuesday, Busch announced that he signed a multi-year deal with Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 8 Chevrolet starting in 2023.
But nine months ago, nobody could have guessed that.
Busch, 37, left Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing after a historic tenure, resulting in 56 victories, two NASCAR Cup Series championships and an Xfinity Series championship. He won 91 Xfinity races with the team and also formed Kyle Busch Motorsports, which won seven owner’s championships in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
This marriage seemed like something that could never be broken, right? That was until at least December 2021, when M&M’s, Busch’s long-time sponsor, announced it would leave the sport after nearly 3o years.
At that point, it seemed like a Jimmie Johnson situation back when Lowe’s left him after the 2018 season. There seemingly had to be a resolution.
However, as the 2022 season ticked on, there didn’t seem to be any definitive answer. Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing wanted him back, but both parties couldn’t find a primary sponsor for Busch to come to a deal.
Later in the summer, a divorce seemed inevitable. In July, David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports “we’re in a bad place.” At Watkins Glen in August, Busch said, “there’s a big change coming” and that “it will not look the same as what it has for the last 15 years.”
After several weeks of speculation and a recent report from The Athletic, Busch made his news official — he’s leaving JGR to sign with RCR, an organization with 112 Cup Series victories.
“At the end of the day, one team and one owner emerged as the clear choice,” Busch said in a press conference on Tuesday. “I had to find a place where I knew I could win races immediately — collecting trophies is still the main reason why I get up every day and go to the race track in order to do this every week.
“I also needed a place where I felt I could hit reset. I could be welcomed just as I am. This change will allow for a clean slate and that’s big for me and my family. A new team, a new teammate — new teammates, and most importantly, a new boss who accepts where I’ve been and yet can help me get to where I want to be.
“I felt like it was a no-brainer.”
Childress has fielded the No. 3 Cup Series entry for his grandson, Austin Dillon, for the last nine seasons. Dillon has amassed four victories, including the regular-season finale at Daytona.
But, Dillon may have scored another victory for his part in alluring Busch to the organization.
When Tyler Reddick, the current driver of the No. 8 car, announced he’d be leaving the organization after the 2023 season, Dillon reached out to Busch. He helped set up a meeting between Childress and Busch, where negotiations started.
“[Dillon] came to me and said ‘pop-pop, what do you think about putting Kyle Busch in that car,'” Childress explained. “I said that would be a dream. Can you line up a meeting where I can talk to him? So, [Busch and Dillon] are friends, they talked about it, and I got an opportunity to meet and talk to Kyle.”
Busch and Childress put aside differences from the past to ajoin for one of the biggest announcements in recent NASCAR history.
After a Truck Series race in 2011, Busch and Childress got into a physical altercation at Kansas Speedway. According to ESPN, Childress took off his watch, placed Busch in a head-lock and punched him.
As a signing bonus on Tuesday, the incident came full circle. Childress walked on stage and handed Busch a box that contained a Rolex watch.
“That [incident] was 10 years ago. We both have grown a whole lot over time,” Childress said. “All that is history. I like talking about the future. And learning from the history, I’ve made a few mistakes in my life.”
Busch’s announcement creates uncertainty yet clarity about the silly season picture for 2023 and beyond.
The first major question: what happens to Reddick? He’s contracted with the team through next season but won’t drive the No. 8 and work with crew chief Randall Burnett beyond 2022.
Childress said Reddick will remain with the team in 2023 and the organization will have a third charter, but wouldn’t further comment.
The second major question: what about Kyle Busch Motorsports? They’ve served as a major development pipeline for Toyota, fielding entries for William Byron, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell and many others in the past.
The plan is for KBM to run as a Chevrolet team in 2023, but that’s still a work in progress.
“We are still working on all that sort of stuff with General Motors and Chevrolet,” Busch said. “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’re not quite certain on that yet, but we’re working through those details.”
Next, it leads to the future of current KBM drivers John Hunter Nemechek, Chandler Smith and Corey Heim. Toyota had created contingency plans for if Busch left, and according to an interview with Wilson on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, they’ll have future announcements about their development drivers.
But for now, Toyota has a massive hole in its development program that will need filling before the start of the 2023 season.
“Toyota and TRD are privileged to have raced with Kyle Busch, one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history,” Wilson said in a statement. “While we certainly wish Kyle the best of luck in the future and congratulate him on his announcement to join Richard Childress Racing, we’re disappointed and saddened that his future won’t continue to be with Team Toyota. Kyle has been an ambassador for Toyota since joining the program in 2008. He’s gone on to accumulate some of the most prestigious milestones possible for the Toyota brand, including our first Cup Series win for the Camry and first Cup Series championship. He will undoubtedly hold the record for the most wins in a Toyota across all three Championship Series for decades to come. But more than that, Kyle has been a friend, part of our family and has played a key role in the development of many of our drivers through his ownership of Kyle Busch Motorsports. We wish nothing but the best for Kyle and his entire family as he moves into the next chapter of his Hall of Fame career. We’re thankful to have been along for the ride.”
And at the Cup level, who replaces Busch in the N0. 18 car? It’s speculated that 19-year-old Ty Gibbs, a nine-time Xfinity winner, will fill the seat after his grandfather’s organization lost arguably the greatest driver they’ve had.
“Kyle has been a major part of our history and success here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” owner Joe Gibbs said in a statement. “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.”
Before Busch makes his leap to RCR, he still has eight races remaining at JGR — where he’s in contention for a third championship. He’s two points below the cutline ahead of Saturday’s race at Bristol, where he’s pursuing his 10th Cup Series victory. His last win there came in the spring dirt race, where he ironically beat Reddick after Reddick wrecked with Chase Briscoe in the final corner.
But when the off-season starts on Nov. 7, Busch will be ready for a new start and a new beginning with Richard Childress Racing.