Turn 2 Blog: Kyle Busch contract drama & Chase Elliott championship favorite?

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

Is all the Kyle Busch contract drama surprising to you?

Richard: I’m not sure anything surprises me anymore when it comes to Kyle Busch. Without question, the Las Vegas native is one of the most talented NASCAR drivers of all time but he also is one of the sport’s most interesting personalities.

Kyle Busch

Getting back to the question at hand, I am not surprised that his contract for next season and beyond is not a done deal because of the sponsorship issues related to the ending of backing from M&M’s and the other Mars brands. Everything in racing revolves around money and even a driver of his caliber must have money behind him to secure a ride. There have been rumors of companies such as Oracle showing interest in sponsoring the No. 18 Joe Gibs Racing Toyota, but there is nothing set in stone as of yet.

The thing I don’t understand about all of this is how Toyota says they want to keep Busch in the fold but seem to be on the verge of letting him get away. Toyota has enough money to sponsor him so I have been wondering why they haven’t stepped forward.

I have said this ever since Busch’s status came into question- with how aggressive Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing have shown themselves to be, if I were in their position I would sign a check and pass it over to this established championship contending driver to fill in the amount. That would bring even more credibility to this emerging organization.

Michael: I am a bit surprised that Toyota seems to be willing to let Busch walk away. I’m also surprised a driver of his caliber is having trouble getting a sponsor. Or maybe it’s JGR having trouble getting a sponsor. If you look at all the sponsors at JGR, some are showing up on all the cars in the stable at some time or another. Look at Dewalt for example. They have been on 3 of the 4 JGR cars this season. They were on the No. 19 and the No. 20 in back-to-back weeks.

I sincerely believe Busch wants to remain at JGR. Otherwise, I think we’d hear something about him going to a different team next year by now. Tyler Reddick has already announced a move for ’24.

There’s no doubt most of the teams that can land significant sponsorship would like to sign Busch in a heart beat. The question is how many of those are out there and is willing Busch to sign with any of them. We shall soon see.

Is Chase Elliott now the championship favorite?

Richard: While his win at Pocono might have come through the back door, it seems as if Elliott and the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team have established themselves as race winning contenders on a weekly basis. They have the most wins this season and the most top-10 finishes which explains why they are in the points lead.

To further show the strength of Elliott and his crew, he has led the most laps this season.

Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have championship experience considering they paired up to win the title in 2020. This is a driver who has matured over the course of his career into one of the best all around pilots in the sport.

Even though this season has been predictably unpredictable, I would have to say that if there is a championship favorite right now, it is Chase Elliott.

Can Chase Elliott win his second NASCAR champion?(Getty Images)

Michael: I never seriously considered Ross Chastain as a championship contender. I was waiting on another driver, maybe two, to emerge. It looks like Elliott is that guy. The only other driver that comes close to Elliott would be Hamlin. But after this past Sunday, we’ll see how he and his team react.

Meanwhile, Elliott continues to do his thing. There are several more road courses coming up, something Elliott is really good at. I believe he will win at least one of those before the playoffs, cementing him as the favorite to win the championship. Unless somebody catches fire in the playoffs, a la Tony Stewart in 2011, I don’t see anyone giving Elliott a serious challenge. But we have seen in the past a driver have problems early in the playoffs and get bounced in the first or second round.

Was the Ty Gibbs vs Noah Gragson battle in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race a preview of the future?

Richard: It was a great battle between Gibbs and Gragson on Saturday at Pocono but I’m not sure this was a preview of things to come.

I have no doubt that Gibbs will be running at the front of the pack in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and ultimately in the NASCAR Cup Series for years to come but I am not so sure about Gragson. Not only is Gibbs very talented but he, as is well known, has great connections within the industry. And more, Gibbs seems to be maturing before our very eyes after a few missteps earlier in his career.

At the same time, I’m not so sure the same can be said about Gragson. Over the past couple of season he has been involved in either verbal or physical altercations with Harrison Burton, Daniel Hemric, Jeb Burton and Sage Karum. That’s a long list over a relatively short period of time and it seems as if these types of things happen on an almost weekly basis.

That said, there are rumors that we may be seeing Gragson in a full-time Cup ride in 2023. We’ll see how that goes. Gibbs will be no doubt be in a Cup ride sometime soon as well and it will likely be a top notch ride.

Ty Gibbs in his No. 54 JGR Toyota

Michael: Gibbs looks to be the heir apparent to either the 18 (if Busch leaves this year) or the 19 (if Truex retires after the ’23 season). He’ll be in very good equipment. Let’s not forget Gibbs has had his share of run-ins, though not as many as Gragson.

One rumor circulating is Gragson may be heading to the 42 in the Petty-GMS ride. While Erik Jones has shown improvement for the 43 and that organization, the 42 is a mid-pack car at best. Unless that organization can get both cars to be competitive, I don’t see Gragson being a factor if that’s where he goes.

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