Kurt Busch’s services as a racecar driver are in high demand. In the third and final season of his current contract with Chip Ganassi Racing, Busch is poised to be one of the biggest free agents of the upcoming offseason. At the end of the day, he may return to CGR to run the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022 and beyond. However, Busch is rumored to be in consideration for a seat at both 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing if both operations decide to expand.
It is surprising to see Busch linked to so many teams for next season. He would obviously be a major asset for 23XI or Trackhouse, two young organizations who could use the expertise of a proven winner and former Cup champion. The surprise comes instead from the idea that Busch may want to leave an established team like CGR and go to a team that is still a work in progress.
For that matter, moving to a new organization seems to contradict the tone of a promotional video that Busch and sponsor Monster Energy made earlier this year. That video follows Busch as he takes the No. 1 Chevy on a joyride through the Florida Keys, and seems to suggest that Busch is contemplating retirement. Yet the video is ultimately ambiguous, and there have been no more signs that Busch will hang up his helmet anytime soon.
Perhaps the real surprise is not that racing options exist for Busch next year but the sheer number he has to choose from. It wasn’t long ago that Busch, despite his obvious talent, was thought to be a risky hire by many in the NASCAR garage. As much as he has a history of winning, his career also includes moments of controversy and emotional outbursts, often against his own team. Busch’s hot-headedness was well known, nearly destroying his career a decade ago. After a season of feuds with other drivers and media members, along with frequent frustration with his crew, Team Penske released Busch a few weeks into the 2011 offseason.
At that moment, it was doubtful that Busch might ever race with a competitive team again. Many wondered if he even had a future in NASCAR at all.
Yet Busch was able to stay in the sport and move back up the competitive ladder. The years immediately after his release from Penske were rough as he bounced from team to team. He spent a tumultuous season with Phoenix Racing that still provided occasional glimpses of his skill behind the wheel. Then, Busch took a still unproven Furniture Row Racing into the postseason for the first time in 2013. By the following year, Busch had a new opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing and was back in victory lane.
However, he had one more serious moment of controversy to face. Following allegations of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, NASCAR indefinitely suspended Busch just before the 2015 Daytona 500. The sanctioning body lifted the punishment only a few weeks later after no charges were issued against Busch. But for a few weeks, the veteran’s racing career hung in the balance yet again. Had Busch actually been charged with a crime, it is likely that he would have been untouchable by teams and sponsors.
Since 2015, Busch has only been in the spotlight for good reasons. Although 2015 was also his last multi-win season, Busch has not been winless since 2013. He was a fixture in the playoffs with SHR, reaching the round of eight in three of his five seasons with the team. Busch has also been to the postseason twice with CGR, including a round of eight appearance last year. Meanwhile, the feuds with other drivers have stopped and testy radio outbursts have subsided. Busch seems far more comfortable with his place in the sport than he has ever been.
Busch’s potential free agency is the biggest sign that the baggage of his past is no longer hindering him. If teams like 23XI and Trackhouse are considering him, it must mean they have a sponsorship package with multiple companies who would like to have him as their representative.
Busch has not been in that situation for quite a while. When he took rides with Phoenix, Furniture Row, and SHR, sponsorship always came directly from the team owner. Rather than court an outside sponsor who might be scared away by Busch’s past troubles, people like James Finch, Barney Visser and Gene Haas could simply self-fund Busch’s car.
Even as Busch has avoided controversy in recent years, Monster has been his only major backer. Their support of Busch is not insignificant – Monster’s sponsorship undoubtedly helped him land his current ride with Ganassi. But it often felt like Busch’s future was tied to how much Monster was willing to spend on sponsorship. Not to mention that Monster cultivates an edgier image, one that makes Busch’s past less of a liability than it might be for other sponsors.
It would have been reasonable to assume Busch had done too much damage to be a fitting representative for anyone else. However, the current chatter about his 2022 free agency dispels that notion. Instead of a hot-headed loose cannon, Busch has earned the reputation of a respectable, veteran racer who can maximize the capabilities of his equipment.
No doubt that Busch has made some bad decisions on and off the track during his career, but those are not the end of his story. Through the ups and the downs of the last 10 years, Busch has done much to repair his image and become a positive representative of NASCAR. Whether he continues with CGR or goes to a new team, he will be sought after not just as a driver, but as someone who can make the team around him better. Not ready to retire just yet, Busch has another chapter to write in the story of a career that’s now lasted for parts of three different decades.