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We all know that the biggest domino is still yet to fall in the NASCAR Cup Series silly season. With Kyle Busch’s contract up in the air due to sponsorship, there has been obvious talk about where the two-time Cup Series champion will go, should he not return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.
But one small detail that many within the racing industry need to keep in mind when talking about Kyle Busch is how his future will impact a series he isn’t even racing in.
Busch’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team, Kyle Busch Motorsports, is fully backed by Toyota Racing Development. For now. But should Busch find himself with a team that isn’t Toyota, one of the biggest manufacturers in the sport today will suddenly be in trouble with their development program.
One team that Busch has been linked to is Stewart-Haas Racing, a Ford team. Ford’s development program is very thin compared to that of Toyota or Chevy. It has David Gilliland Racing, but none of its drivers seem ready to move up yet. Then there’s Front Row Motorsports, who should probably begin the process of looking for a new driver now in the event that Zane Smith decides to move up, especially following his promising Cup debut with RFK Racing at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Ford also has Stewart-Haas Racing’s Xfinity Series program that only runs Riley Herbst (a former KBM and Toyota development driver). Other than that — that’s it. Ford has no other teams, which means very limited seats for driver development.
Then there’s the Chevrolet camp, which hosts the likes of GMS Racing, Niece Motorsports and Hilgemann-McAnally Racing. I’d also throw in Spire Motorsports’ part-time team as they seem to bring fast trucks to the track. It has a host of teams in the Xfinity Series, namely Richard Childress Racing and JR Motorsports, but its Truck development might be a step behind Toyota’s as well.
There are several Kyle Busch Motorsports alumni in NASCAR’s top-three series, including:
These are just a few names that have gone through KBM at some point in their career to make it to where they are now. While a lot of them are no longer with Toyota, they got their big break through the Toyota camp.
So what does the landscape of the Truck Series look like if Kyle Busch and Toyota part ways? Well, first, and probably most obvious, either Ford or Chevy would get a huge boost in driver development by adding KBM and its 3-4 truck team to its fold. But Toyota would suffer a huge blow in its driver development.
If KBM switches manufacturers, Toyota only has ThorSport Racing and Halmar-Friesen Racing spearheading their manufacturer’s championship campaign. While these two teams are very solid, they are not driver development teams. ThorSport has two drivers (Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes) that are content where they are, and two others (Christian Eckes and Ty Majeski) who don’t seem to be in conversations for promotion anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Stewart Friesen seems like another driver who is content with staying in the Truck Series, and HFR’s second team, the part-time No. 62, has only been in operation this season to get Todd Bodine to 800 starts and to let Stewart’s wife Jessica compete with him in the dirt races. However, the team decided to sign rookie Layne Riggs (son of Scott Riggs) for two races in the truck, and that seems to be paying off as Riggs finished seventh in his debut at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park; they might be onto some sort of development there.
With these teams seemingly not interested in having a driver development program, this is one of the big reasons Toyota is working night and day to find sponsorship for Kyle Busch to keep him at Joe Gibbs Racing. If he ends up at another team, Toyota has all but nothing for driver development.
In fact, Busch’s move could shake up the Xfinity Series too – one Toyota team, Sam Hunt Racing, has employed drivers like Chandler Smith and John Hunter Nemechek to compete in Xfinity races – a manufacturer move could put that small team in some trouble in terms of finding Toyota drivers.
It’s already wild enough to think about Busch not being confirmed to drive for JGR in 2023, but it’s even crazier to think about the bigger picture should he not return. Not only is Kyle Busch one of the most talented active drivers in the NASCAR series garage, but the struggle to retain him for 2023 will have a long-term impact on him, his Truck Series team and his manufacturer’s driver development.
All eyes — and I mean all — are on the 37-year-old from Las Vegas.
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