It’s been a wild week at Daytona International Speedway, and as the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin this weekend at Darlington Raceway, many eyes are focused on the championship race. While the playoffs always provide intrigue, perhaps most intriguingly, the biggest question mark for the 2023 silly season has yet to be answered, and it could lead to a major driver leaving an established organization.
Kyle Busch is still out of contract for 2023, and as the days go by, it seems increasingly unlikely that he will return to Joe Gibbs Racing for a 16th season.
That makes us think: Is JGR better off without Kyle Busch? Debate between Anthony Damcott and Amy Henderson.
JGR desperately needs Kyle Busch
As much as JGR acknowledges that Kyle Busch’s resignation should be at the top of their priority list, the team may not realize how valuable he is to their organization.
If Toyota and JGR let Busch off and sign elsewhere, it’s a losing game for everyone. At the Cup level, vacate a prestigious seat in a race-winning car. And filling that seat is not going to be as easy as people think. First, JGR needs to find someone with sponsorship, enough to sponsor most of an entire season. That alone is hard to do without stealing another active driver from another race team. The team could go after Tyler Reddick, but that’s only assuming Richard Childress is still upset about the Reddick 23XI Racing announcement and decides to release him a year early. Other sponsored free-agent drivers don’t have enough to last half the season.
So the only realistic option JGR has right now is to promote someone. But who? Ty Gibbs is the obvious choice, but Joe Gibbs has made it clear that he would like to see his grandson run another full-time season on the Xfinity Series before moving up. Of course, plans always change, especially when Gibbs lands an unexpected seat on 23XI this season, but who else could JGR move up? Brandon Jones is too inexperienced to take that walk. Bringing someone up directly from the Busch Camping World Truck Series team wouldn’t be smart, if not impossible.
The reason it would be impossible leads to the second reason JGR needs to do everything in their power to keep Busch. If he goes somewhere else, his truck crew will go with him. That leaves Toyota with NO development team in the Truck Series, which in turn leaves NOBODY for JGR to fill No. 18 without taking someone off another team or taking a chance on a free agent, both of which are hard to come by. do, depending on who they would be targeting.
This was covered in a previous Frontstretch article in much more detail, but it’s still relevant when discussing the status of Busch’s contract. Hopefully JGR and Toyota Racing Development are doing everything in their power to keep him, otherwise it’s a total loss situation for everyone involved (well, except maybe Busch, that is). –Anthony Damcott
The game has changed and it’s time to move on
He is tied for ninth on the all-time win list and for the highest win total among active drivers with 60. In NASCAR’s three national series, he has an amazing 224 wins. So what doesn’t Busch have?
A ride for next year.
Busch, who has been virtually a sure thing in the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup since 2008. In his first year with the team he showed why Gibbs had so much faith in him with eight wins, one more than that year’s champion Jimmie Johnson. Busch has taken JGR to victory lane at least once a year since then.
But after longtime sponsor Mars canceled its NASCAR program at the end of the current season, JGR has had trouble finding sponsorship for Busch. There could be several reasons for this: the team won’t accept a figure below a certain number and no suitor (or combination of them) has hit that magic number yet, Busch himself won’t accept a salary below a certain number. You don’t want to sign a deal that relies on sponsorship when neither has materialized, a combination of these, or none at all.
Toyota would certainly like to keep Busch in the fold, but whatever the delay, Busch may be leaving JGR.
And that’s fine.
In the short term, letting Busch go seems like a colossal mistake. He is only 37 years old, maybe in the later half of his prime, but still. And he may have more raw talent than any other driver in Cup right now.
And it has fit perfectly in JGR; the team has taken his volatile personality in stride. Busch was fired from Hendrick Motorsports in favor of Casey Mears because that personality is big and didn’t fit the Hendrick culture. Gibbs embraced him and Busch thrived.
But it’s time to move on.
The team needs to look at the long game now. Busch got them to this point and he deserves praise for that. He’d like to drive for several more years until he can share a ride with his son Brexton in the Truck Series, and he’s certainly not too old for that goal to be outrageous.
Busch’s second and most recent Cup title came just three years ago, on the heels of a five-win campaign in 2019. But it’s hard to ignore that he only has four wins in 2020, 2021 and 2022 combined.
And while his luck has been dire at times, Busch has struggled with the Next Gen car. It’s a scene we’ve seen many times in the past: a great driver evolves with the car and wins races and titles…until something changes and he doesn’t.
Busch certainly has more wins in him, but his yearly total is down. The next driver he’ll have to pass to move up the all-time win list is Dale Earnhardt and his 76th win. There was a time when Busch could get 16 wins in three years, maybe four, but now 76 seems like a stretch. He could recover, of course, but should JGR take any chances?
Of course, a young and inexperienced driver is also a gamble. But at some point, all drivers get old and need a replacement. Busch may not be there yet, but JGR (and by default Toyota) has had to let talented drivers go because there was no room. At some point, they will pay for it.
Ty Gibbs, the grandson of Joe Gibbs and a driver who has shown a lot of talent, is waiting in the wings. He currently fills in at 23XI Racing for Kyle Busch’s injured older brother, Kurt Busch.
Ty Gibbs hasn’t set the Cup world on fire. But in six races, he’s been right up there with Kyle Busch.
Busch has finished ahead of Gibbs three times, with Gibbs leading the other three. Neither has a win or a top five in that span. Busch has two top-10 finishes and Gibbs has just one, but Gibbs’ average finish is nearly three positions better (19.6 to Busch’s 22.2).
Ty Gibbs is only 19 years old.
If Busch races to 45, Gibbs would still be 26, with decades to go. Will he come close to Busch’s numbers in those years? Of course, there is no way of knowing. He is a promising prospect, but Busch is a proven champion.
But we’re looking at the long game here. Teams in virtually every sport go through a time where the superstars move on and the team rebuilds for the future. JGR’s stable is aging at a time when its biggest rivals are trending much younger. That may benefit JGR now, but in a few years, the other teams will have younger veterans with the experience to win, and JGR will have older or younger heroes behind the curve.
Ty Gibbs would probably benefit from another year in the Xfinity Series, but there’s some wisdom in giving that up to free up Xfinity’s journey to develop another youngster, because the team likely needs to replace Martin Truex Jr. in a future as well. year or two. It would also give young Gibbs a year under his belt instead of having a couple of rookies and the mistakes that come with them.
In a perfect world, JGR would waive Busch to a one, maybe two-year deal and then bring in a slightly older Ty Gibbs to No. 18. But such a deal hasn’t materialized or been accepted, and time is shortened.
Joe Gibbs is no stranger to playing the long game, and it’s time to play it. Ten years from now, Busch will likely retire from Cup racing full time. And Ty Gibbs may not even have reached his prime.
Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing have a storied past. But it’s time to plan ahead and play for the long haul.
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