The main saga of the 2022 goofy season has been the potential departure of Kyle Busch from his old home at Joe Gibbs Racing and it’s looking increasingly likely to end with one of the most significant driver changes in the history of the sport.
Busch is the most decorated active driver in NASCAR with Cup Series championships and is tied for ninth all-time with 60 race wins during his 18 full-time seasons at the sport’s highest level. He also has an Xfinity Series championship and 225 combined NASCAR wins, which tops Richard Petty’s 200 for the most in NASCAR history, though all of Petty’s wins came at the Cup Series level.
Now comes the weird part.
Busch may not return next season to the No. 18 JGR team, where he captured his 2015 and 2019 Cup Series titles and all but four of his 60 career wins. He initially broke into the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 car, but moved to JGR after his first three full-time seasons.
Mars Inc. has been the title sponsor of Busch and the No. 18 car under its M&M brand during his 15 years as driver of that car, but the company announced ahead of the 2022 season that this would be the last in the sport going forward. foreseeable.
That decision was a blow to JGR. The Mars sponsorship was one of the oldest in the sport and one of the few that was title sponsor for the vast majority of the 38 races each season.
JGR has struggled all year to find a viable replacement, and the push and pull between Busch and the organization this year has led to the point that the most likely scenario is Busch driving for a different organization in 2023.
Which company Busch will move to is still unknown, but it will arguably be the biggest Silly Season change in the sport of this century, if not of all time.
Other drivers at the Hall of Fame level have made similar mid-career changes.
Tony Stewart is the only other driver to have had multiple championships since 2000 when he made a career change. Stewart also left JGR after 2009, but only had 33 career wins from him at the time of the move, leaving in part due to the possibility of co-ownership of what became Stewart-Haas Racing.
However, he was only 37 years old and still won a third championship in 2011 and 16 more races in his last eight seasons. Stewart ranks 15th on the all-time Cup Series wins list with 49.
Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Cup Series champion, left Roush Fenway Racing after the 2012 season with 24 career wins when he took over the No. 20 car at JGR from Joey Logano. He won a career-high seven races at age 41 and was runner-up in the 2013 championship in his first season at JGR. He finished with 15 wins in the No. 20 car and finished with 39 in his career.
2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.’s path to JGR in 2019 included several different stops, and he had competed full-time in the Cup Series for 10 years before notching multiple wins in one season. Truex has 31 career wins for him, but his move to JGR was due to his Furniture Row Racing team closing after the 2018 campaign.
The other big change in terms of notoriety was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s switch from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Earnhardt was easily the most famous driver of the era, scoring 17 wins in his eight years at DEI and only I was 32 years old.
Earnhardt won nine races in his 10 years at HMS, but never won a championship and finished with 26 career wins.
Busch, meanwhile, is already tied for ninth on the all-time Cup Series wins list with Kevin Harvick, who also had a big mid-career move from Richard Childress Racing to SHR in 2014. However, most of Harvick’s success has come since he also switched organizations at age 37. He had only 23 wins at the time and didn’t win the championship from him until his debut season in SHR.
Drivers ahead of Busch on the win list, like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and even Petty, didn’t change organizations after reaching the level of success Busch has.
Any comparable change would be from the 1970s to 1980s era of Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough, whose career peaks preceded the great multi-car organizations that exist today.
There is still a dwindling chance that Busch could stay with JGR after this year and complete his career at the company where he has built his Hall of Fame resume. Chances are the 2022 goofy season will include the biggest change the sport has seen in decades.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference
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