Kyle Busch has endured one of his most difficult seasons both on and off the track.
On the track, he’s battled inconsistencies plagued by constant bad luck.
Off the track, it’s a much bigger, unexpected picture.
With 12 races remaining in the 2022 season, Busch doesn’t have anything set for next year, and nothing seems imminently close, either. His longtime primary sponsor, M&M’s, is walking away from the sport after more than 30 years and Busch is without a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Certainly, re-signing a two-time Cup Series champion comes with a large asking price. But, a big number can’t be accommodated by JGR without a primary sponsor set in place.
Busch is seemingly running out of patience and has started talking to other, undisclosed teams. Multiple sources have said Stewart-Haas Racing is a front-runner for Busch’s services.
But, JGR and Toyota aren’t backing down. They both want Busch to stay and understand his value to the team and the manufacturer as a whole. Most importantly, Busch wants to stay. Busch has indicated he would take concessions to stay, but time is slowly running out.
“I had a relationship with this manufacturer and this team – Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing — for 15 years,” Busch said at Richmond Raceway. “We’ve won championships and 50-something races together. And, you know, obviously to continue on with that – my dream was to always have the chance of being able to go out when I want to and retire when I want to and sort of do the Ivan Stewart ‘Ironman’ deal with Toyota where he’s kind of a lifer.
“It’s not as simple as a seven-year-old puzzle. It’s about a 50-year-old puzzle, just with the amount of pieces and how long this thing has been taken.”
A major piece to this long-standing puzzle is Kyle Busch Motorsports, a Camping World Truck Series and ARCA team Busch has owned since 2010. What happens to the team if Busch changes manufacturers? How does KBM economically fit in if Busch re-signs with Gibbs?
“It’s at the forefront in the discussions,” Busch said. “That’s probably why it’s taking a little bit longer than what it should. And so just working through those pieces. Again, the puzzle is not as easy and as simple as it may seem from the outside.
“This is the second time I’ve gone through this. The last time I went through this was 15 years ago. The landscape of the sport was entirely different 15 years ago. And so this to me, you know that I had a runway of 20 to 25 years ahead of me, you know, so I had probably a little bit more runway to stand on.
“I’ve got six, seven, maybe eight more years if I play all this out perfectly. Brexton and I, we share a truck when he turns 16 years old when he’s 16 and 17. And then it’s his when he’s 18. And I’m done. I’m out… That’s the perfect play. And so, if I can align all of that, you know, the runway does exist for a Busch.”
As Busch pushes toward a new sponsor and a new deal next year, he has one victory to his name this year. But that was earlier in the season on Bristol dirt, a race he won after Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe crashed heading toward the checkered flag.
In total, Busch has six top fives and 12 top 10s, but his latest stretch has arguably been the most difficult. After finishing second at Gateway in June, Busch went eight races without a top-10 finish.
Saturday at Richmond, Busch was asked if 2022 was mentally one of the toughest seasons of his career.
“Please hold. Getting my facts straight here.”
Busch paused and pulled out his cellphone. He had recorded notes for each of the eight races he finished outside the top 10.
“Sonoma collectively JGR, we all sucked,” he read. “Nashville, we were P2 and led the most laps, could [have], should [have] won the race barring a strategy call at the end. Road America, driver made a mistake, pit road over the wall too soon. Speeding penalty, race went green to the end.”
Busch continued: “Atlanta, good car drove from 19th to the top three in the opening run. We had a hiccup on pit road. We were involved in the next crash. New Hampshire, we spun twice. We weren’t very good. Our teammates were a little bit better than us obviously. Still was able to salvage 12th.”
Busch seemed to have turned his slide around with a second-place finish at Pocono, but a disqualification for tape on the front facia of the car derailed that result.
“Pocono, one of the top three best cars all day led the most laps, finish second before the room of doom.”
Busch finished 11th the next week at Indianapolis before crashing early at Michigan.
But, Busch turned things around with a ninth-place finish at Richmond on Sunday before heading to Watkins Glen. Though he’s struggled through the dog days of summer, contending for a championship is by no means out of the question. Busch is ninth in driver’s points and 10th in playoff points.
After what Busch accomplished in 2015 after his leg injury, anything is possible. The playing field levels and points reset beginning at Darlington. A win and you’re in the next round. It’s hard to count out Busch in high-pressure scenarios like that.
And, a deep playoff run would likely give him a little more leverage in terms of scoring that new contract.
Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.