How Kyle Busch’s 15-year run with Joe Gibbs Racing ended

Kyle Bush was supposed to be one of the Joe Gibbs Racing bowlers. Whenever his Cup Series career would conclude, it was conceivable that he would be Toyota’s 18th driver for JGR, the team that became synonymous with him for more than 15 years as part of a duo that won two championships and 56 races.

However, there will be year 16. Bush Signs with Richard Childress Racing Beginning of the 2023 season, Bosch announced tuesdayafter three days the athlete He first reported the news, a surprising development that would see Busch leave the team as he evolved into one of NASCAR’s all-time greats. And that his departure to the RCR organization that won a Cup in 1994 and over 15 years collectively won 20 fewer races than Busch himself made it all the more surprising.

Why would Busch want to leave a team of JGR caliber, regardless of any other opportunities he might have? And why wouldn’t JGR want to keep a driver like Bosch, a driver in the prime of his career and still able to win additional championships?

Busch wanted to stay with JGR, and JGR wanted to keep Busch, but nothing is so simple with Busch. The disruptive business model that is NASCAR team ownership entails that organizations like JGR have high-dollar sponsors in place to keep them afloat financially. Without the said care, they would have run deep into the red and would never have made it to the track.

For 15 years, JGR has had Mars, Inc. on Busch’s car, a deal valued at approximately $20 million annually that awarded JGR to retain Busch under a contract that paid him a salary commensurate with his solid resume. The pairing was very helpful to everyone involved. Mars, primarily through its M&M brand, gained a lot of exposure with Busch becoming one of NASCAR’s most prolific winners. In return, he received a huge salary. A win for all involved.

Then the matrix changed last summer. Mars informed the team that he would leave after the 2022 season when his contract was under renewal.

Suddenly, JGR faced a dilemma. Although she wanted to keep Busch, she needed a primary sponsor to drive his market value. No sponsor intended to tighten its budget, with no guarantees that Busch would be paid a reduced salary, thus potentially forcing JGR to find a different driver – someone cheaper.

At first, however, this option seemed unlikely. Conventional wisdom has suggested that once JGR obtains a new primary sponsor for its 18th team, Busch’s contract extension will soon follow.

But, again, nothing is ever easy when it comes to Busch.

JGR made an offer to Busch earlier this year that would have kept him as one of the most compensated drivers in the garage, according to people familiar with the negotiations. That offer, which was not linked to any sponsorship, was subsequently rejected with Bush believing he would either receive a more favorable offer once JGR finalized an agreement with Mars’ replacement or another team entered into negotiations and offered a contract more in line with his counterpart. the value.

“This is not the place to start airing any dirty laundry,” Bush said when asked. the athlete On August 27, whether JGR offered him a contract during negotiations. “Just trust me, in time, things will work out. And what happens happens.”

Kyle Busch’s colorful M&M themed ride has been a staple on the NASCAR Cup circuit. But the loss of sponsorship eventually led him to quit Joe Gibbs Racing altogether. (Mark Lebrick/USA Today)

Throughout the season, JGR continued to search for a sponsor that would allow it to increase its offering. However, such a sponsor did not sign. According to NBC SportsJGR has been in discussions with Oracle to sponsor #18 just for that.

Earlier this year, Bush began to seriously explore his options elsewhere. In addition to RCR, Bosch also spoke to Stewart-Haas Racing, Kaulig Racing, 23XI Racing and Petty GMS Motorsports about potential opportunities, according to those familiar with the discussions.

“I don’t think money was ever the goal or was the problem,” Bush said on July 30. “Obviously, I know what the sporting scene is, and I know what’s going on. … It’s still my first choice, my number one goal, my first group is Being at Joe Gibbs Racing and staying with Toyota and having no change. But that unicorn didn’t fall out of the sky for $20 million or whatever. And I don’t think it should be that number because obviously there’s a number in that that then pays the driver And I’ve already said that I’m willing to take the compromises and race for less than my market value and move on and be able to stay in the seat I’ve made at home for the past 15 years.

“I feel as though I said, and will continue to say, that my number one goal is to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing. But if the musical chairs music stops, and I’m still standing and I don’t have a seat, I’m screwed. So, I have to make sure I keep talking and evaluating every A place and every position to find something.”

One hurdle JGR faced throughout the process was Bosch’s less-than-stellar public image. Although he is undoubtedly a top talent, his career is riddled with flaws that include a series of blasts, fines and even suspension for one race to intentionally bump an opponent during the 2011 Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Last week, Bush dismissed the suggestion that his reputation was a stumbling block in finding a sponsor.

“Obviously the perception is that it might be more difficult to sell a sponsor, but I would argue that fact,” he said at Media Day on September 1. “So, is this Cale’s problem or a mathematical problem?”

He then added that it was unlikely that the next patron would have the same level of understanding that Mars had of his accidental mistakes.

“I feel like having the freedom to act or respond to certain situations the way I can through M&M’s support has allowed me to be as successful as I was on Sunday, 1,000 percent,” Bush said. “Should that change? Probably. How much? 10 percent, 15 percent, I don’t know. Maybe 18 percent should change, but I don’t know what that is or what that looks like. So obviously that didn’t to be determined after.

Busch’s character struggles can’t be ruled out in his search for sponsorship, even though he’s the only active multi-time cup champion and is tied for the ninth time ever with 60 career victories.

“It’s not good in this sport at the highest levels to be the best driver,” said David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development Head, on August 27. “Kyle Busch is in the conversation for the best ever. He’s breaking every record the sport has ever seen.

“It’s not good enough in this sport. You need Corporate America, you need sponsorship to lead the ship, and whether that’s a good thing or not, it’s not for me to say. It’s the truth. So it was a challenging environment. Part of that is. It’s just an organic matter of the current economy, inflation, stagnation, whatever you want to call it. Some of that is definitely, again, the polarizing nature of some drivers, and they don’t suit every patron.”

Complicating matters further, Ty Gibbs’ rapid rise as the prospect best described by NASCAR. Over the past year and a half, Joe Gibbs’ 19-year-old grandson has quickly made a name for himself in the NASCAR Division II Xfinity Series, emerging as a title contender in his first full season. Ty Gibbs impressively cemented his reputation by filling in Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash on July 23 at Pocono Raceway, in the Cup Series.

By showing Gibbs that it belongs at the Trophy level, JGR now had a promising backup plan should Busch negotiations go sideways — an option that was both cost-effective and more attractive to potential image-minded sponsors. As the weeks progressed and negotiations with Bush continued, it became increasingly clear that this was the direction the JGR was heading.

I felt the separation was inevitable, only a matter of time when it became official. Bush appears to have acknowledged the reality when he spoke to the media on August 20.

“You want to be able to go to a place where you feel you have a legitimate chance to race to win,” Bush said. “Believe me, I don’t feel it is fair to me or my family or anything else if we have to spend less time together moving forward because we will have to change our lifestyle. There is no doubt that there is a big change coming.”

During that same press conference, Bush also opened up about what the process was like dealing with potentially big changes on the horizon.

“It was very difficult,” Bush said. “It’s been so many sleepless nights figuring out what your future is and all that stuff.”

These feelings are to be expected. Divorce is never easy. Especially when both parties wanted to stay together.

For 15 years, Busch had everything he wanted in the team – the quality of the equipment was never in question, it was possible to constantly compete for wins and titles, and he earned a large salary. It’s hard to ask for more.

Now everything is changing. And it changes dramatically.

(Top image: David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)