Certainly one of the biggest news stories during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season has been the uncertain contract status of two-time champion Kyle Busch. The contract of the talented 37-year-old driver with Joe Gibbs Racing will expire at the end of the current campaign and has yet to be renewed. Unless that situation changes, the Las Vegas native could become one of the most highly regarded free agents to be available in quite some time.
Busch’s record speaks for itself. He has won a total of 60 NASCAR Cup Series races and was crowned as the champion in 2015 and 2019. Few others have credentials that can match those of this driver who has yet to reach the age many consider to be the prime of a racer’s career.
At the same time, Joe Gibbs Racing has shown itself to be one of the top operations in NASCAR over a long period of time. Race wins and championships are the expectation for the teams owned by the only person to be enshrined in both the NASCAR and NFL Halls of Fame. Many drivers would consider a seat in one of this organization’s Toyota machines to be a dream opportunity.
To a large degree, these two have helped to make each other. Of Busch’s Cup Series victories, 56 have come in JGR cars. And while the list of drivers who have competed on behalf of JGR is a who’s who of racing’s top stars, Busch has certainly contributed greatly to the building of the company’s empire status.
But now the two almost legendary racing entities find themselves at a crossroads. As has been well documented over the past few months, the primary sponsor of the No. 18 car will not return for the 2023 season. Mars, Inc. informed JGR earlier this year that their long time of involvement in NASCAR would be coming to an end. And since that revelation, no new financial backer has been found to replace the makers of M&M’s and other consumer products.
Without the certainty of sponsorship in place, JGR has seemingly been reluctant to commit to re-signing Busch. At the same time, reports indicate that the star driver has a high asking price for his contract renewal.
After all they have accomplished together, though, don’t these two owe each other a year to see if a solution that has not yet presented itself in 2022 might come to light in 2023? Logic would tell us that Busch would like to stay with the team that has made him into one of the sport’s all-time greats while JGR would like to keep the driver who has taken them to so many victory lanes over the years.
Of course, there is always the possibility that other factors are at work here. Obviously, the talented Ty Gibbs is waiting in the wings to join his grandfather’s Cup Series team in one of their four rides. And, Busch could very well be holding things up knowing that he can get more money or that another team might come in and make an offer he can’t refuse.
In 2020, Brad Keselowski found himself in a similar circumstance with Team Penske. Ultimately, the championship winning driver signed a one-year deal to stay with that team before moving to what is now known as Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing as both a driver and part owner. When that happened, the Penske organization moved Austin Cindric(son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric) into their No. 2 Ford.
Penske had a young driver with connections to the organization waiting in the wings just like JGR does now. But looking back, staying together for one additional season seems to have benefitted both Penske and Keselowski. They owed that to each other.
Granted, the situation at Penske had the major difference of sponsorship in place where there is uncertainty at JGR. But a team of that magnitude and a driver with these kinds of credentials would surely allow something to come together, even if on a piecemeal basis.
From an outsider’s point of view, it would seem to be worth the risk for both parties to give in a bit and work out a deal for a one-year contract to stay together unless something changes that would allow for more. It just seems like Busch and JGR owe that to each other.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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