It has been three months since Kyle Busch told reporters he wanted his contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing done “yesterday,” and that extension has still not been completed.
Busch is the most accomplished active driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, and JGR is consistently one of the best teams in the garage. Both parties want to continue their relationship, which has netted two championships and 56 wins at the Cup level.
And I’m sure both parties are aware the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The next driver of the No. 18 (which, let’s be honest, would probably be Ty Gibbs should Busch leave) might not have as much success as the future NASCAR Hall of Famer. And they certainly wouldn’t sell as much merchandise, have a documentary made about them or field a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team for Toyota to grow its talent. Not right away, at least.
Top-tier rides are also hard to come by, so Busch would be taking a huge risk. Sure, Stewart-Haas Racing supposedly has a seat open, but that team only has two wins in the past two seasons. It’s going to take a lot of work to get SHR back to JGR’s level.
So why can’t Busch and JGR both just sign the dotted line and maintain their union?
The two big issues appear to be sponsorship and salary.
Even though the team has known all season that Mars, Inc. is leaving at the end of 2022, replacing such a gigantic sponsor is easier said than done. A short while ago, it seemed like the team was close to landing a sponsor. But recent quotes from Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson indicate that the sponsor fell through.
“I wish I could handicap it for you … but I just can’t,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “We’re in a bad place right now. … We’ve got some tremendously heavy lifting in front of us.”
Busch may get booed at driver introductions, but he’s consistently voted as one of the most popular drivers in Cup. He’s one of the few drivers casual sports fans will know and the only active multi-time champion. When someone of his caliber can’t land a sponsor, it’s a bad sign for the rest of the NASCAR.
I think they are saying that without the ability to leverage B2B it’s extremely difficult.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 21, 2022
A huge reason Busch and JGR can’t find a sponsor? The asking price is too high. The days of teams getting eight figures from a single sponsor are nearly extinct. I’d bet the team wouldn’t have nearly as much sponsor drama if it sliced down the sponsorship price.
But JGR has to make money, as the team should. And it ain’t cheap to field a winning race team. So if it’s not getting eight figures in sponsorship for a car, it’s not making money.
The team is probably trying to lower the sponsor asking price by lowering Busch’s salary. And Busch’s camp is probably firmly against a pay cut, and you can’t blame it given Busch’s resume.
If NASCAR’s financials worked similarly to other sports, Busch’s salary would at least be in the top five. He may even be the highest paid driver.
But in NASCAR, the teams make majority of their money off of sponsorship. And if the No. 18 team can’t land a sponsor to cover Busch’s salary, it can’t afford to pay him.
A few years down the road, when the next TV contracts are signed, this business model may change. The TV money will probably increase, based on the trends of other sports. Additionally, 23XI Racing’s leadership as well as others are pushing for the teams to get a bigger slice of the money pie. The hope is when that deal happens, the TV money will be the main funder of the teams and sponsorship will just be an added bonus.
But that won’t be for a few more years, which does nothing to help the JGR-Busch standoff. And even though I wrote earlier this season that Busch would more than likely be back in the No. 18, the possibility that he may not be grows stronger and stronger by the week. Unless a sponsor emerges in the 11th hour, it’s hard to imagine either party calling the other’s bluff.
It wouldn’t be the first time JGR let a Hall of Fame talent walk away over not being able to get a contract done. The team replaced Matt Kenseth with Erik Jones, who it paid a fraction of what Kenseth wanted.
JGR could significantly cut costs by putting Gibbs in the No. 18. Plus Gibbs brings some sponsorship from Monster Energy. And if you’re Joe Gibbs, isn’t that deep down the car you want your grandson to end up in anyways?
The only problem with promoting Ty Gibbs now is what happens if Martin Truex Jr. retires after next season and all his sponsors leave. Who replaces him? JGR runs the risk of losing two superstars in two years.
Without a new sponsor entering the picture, it’s really hard to see a situation where Busch gets everything he wants. It seems like he’s either going to have to take a pay cut or leave.
It would sort of be a step down, but SHR is probably the only team that can pay Busch what he deserves. And it can do it without landing a major sponsor, as Gene Haas could foot the bill through Haas CNC, like he currently does a lot of the time for the No. 41 car.
But the problem is SHR and Busch would need Ford to step up and support Kyle Busch Motorsports. Ford’s development program does need a shot in the arm, and TRD isn’t utilizing KBM as much recently (Gibbs and Sammy Smith both skipped Trucks), so maybe Busch could actually come out ahead on that deal.
Trackhouse Racing Team is the only other team I could maybe see putting up the money to get Busch. Justin Marks‘ squad has a knack for attracting sponsors, so maybe it can do what JGR hasn’t yet. But the team would also have to expand and buy a charter in order to do that, unless it wants to screw over Ross Chastain or Daniel Suarez.
It’s really hard to predict how this Busch-JGR saga will play out. Could this really be the end of one of the greatest partnerships of the playoff era?
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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