Listening to the wind of changeAn August summer night […]
The future’s in the airCan feel it everywhere Blowing with the wind of change – “Wind of Change” by Scorpions (1990)
The first signs of trouble came in April at Talladega Superspeedway.
Storm clouds were brewing over Kyle Busch.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver of going on 15 years was short and vaguely to the point as he answered questions in the track’s media center.
What was his desired time frame for setting his 2023 plans?
“Yesterday,” Busch said. “I’m not getting antsy about it. If it happens, it happens. If it don’t, it don’t. Goodbye.”
Was leaving JGR a possibility?
“Ask Joe Gibbs.”
Had he been talking to his team owner?
“Not my problem,” Busch said. “Got to sell it. If you don’t sell it, then nothing to have.”
So everything depends on a sponsor?
In late 2021 Mars, Inc., Busch’s primary sponsor at JGR since 2008, announced it would be leaving NASCAR as a sponsor at the end of 2022. That coincided with the end of Busch’s current contract.
Based on reporting in the last four months, in hindsight, it’s possible that, in the time frame of Busch’s Talladega media availability, a potential new sponsor for Busch, a technology company called Oracle, had just fallen through.
In the months since, no $20 million “unicorn” of a sponsor — as Busch said last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — has materialized.
The swirling gusts of a potential change in scenery for Busch increased significantly in July.
It was at Indy that the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion said that his “first goal” was staying with JGR. He had settled into the reality that he’d likely have to compete for less than his market value.
“I’m willing to take concessions,” Busch said. “Whatever that comes to be, obviously it’s a negotiation.”
That same week, Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson told NBC Sports, “we’re in a bad place right now,” when it came to keeping Busch.
“We’ve got some tremendously heavy lifting in front of us,” Wilson said.
On Aug. 12, two days after the 15th anniversary of the announcement that Busch would join JGR, Wilson appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Wilson said there was “absolutely a chance” that Toyota would be able to keep Busch under its roof.
A “chance” doesn’t exactly instill someone with confidence.
💭"There's absolutely a chance that we can keep him […] there's nothing that's not on the table."
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) August 13, 2022
Four months after Talladega, what started out as an energetic easterly wind feels like it has become a gale force blowing Busch toward a new racing home.
During last weekend’s visit to Watkins Glen International, Busch said this spring and summer have been “hard as hell” to navigate.
He compared his current situation to what he experienced in 2007, when he moved from Hendrick Motorsports to JGR.
“The first time I went through this was 15 years ago, and it was a learning experience,” Busch said. “It was hard then too, but it was nothing like now. Then it was just me, myself and I. I didn’t have [wife] Samantha, I didn’t have a son. I didn’t have a daughter.
“All I had was an agent that was helping me, and now I’m kind of all on my own doing it along with Samantha and family, but, you know, going through many of the same things. But it’s way, way harder, because now you have Kyle Busch Motorsports that you’ve got to think about, you’ve got a building that you’ve got to pay on, you’ve got a building note and all that sort of stuff. So there’s a lot, a lot, a lot of pieces, and that’s why it’s not so simple.
“If you look at each aspect of everything of my life, which some of you may not know or may not fully know, is there’s just a lot. So trying to take care of all those pieces and make sure everything goes as it was or as it has been the last few years would certainly be nice.”
Busch said he hadn’t been told yet that he definitely wouldn’t be returning to JGR in 2023. However, Busch said, “There’s a big change coming.”
“Is it worth it to go run around and not have an opportunity to win right away versus building something versus jumping in something that can win?” Busch said. “All those questions are certainly being weighed out. And so, again, that’s also why it’s not so simple and so easy.
“So, thankfully there are opportunities out there. There are Cup jobs available. But again, it will not look the same as what it has for the last 15 years.”
Whatever Busch’s future looks like — competing for JGR, 23XI Racing, Kaulig Racing or (increasingly less likely) Stewart-Haas Racing — brace yourself for a change.
2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast.
About the author
Daniel McFadin is a 7-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He's currently a freelancer and lead reporter and editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR show "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" on YouTube and in podcast form.
You can email him at email@example.com.