By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Another week has passed in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season without Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing cementing a deal for him to stay put as the driver of the No. 18 Toyota next season.
And the two sides don’t seem to be any closer to an agreement than they have been in recent weeks.
Addressing the issue ahead of practice and qualifying Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch noted that he has looked at the landscape of the sport and is willing to make concessions to race for less than what his market value may be, but without sponsorship to help make that a reality, it’s a non-starter at this point.
“Obviously, I know where the sports landscape is,” Busch said. “I know what’s happening. The talk from my side was that I know there needs to be concessions made to race for under my market value. I’ve accepted that and have told everybody that. Just trying to see where all that lies.
“I feel like the market is different than what it was years ago and willing to race for under my market value. So, whatever that comes to be, obviously it’s in negotiation and figuring out where I go and what the long term play is, what the short term play is. And you know, hopefully not being able to go through this again.”
As he continued on, Busch compared the situation he is in to teams in other sports having to release big name athletes due to lack of funding, but add in the additional layer of having to deal with the necessity of sponsorship in the motorsports world.
“It’s not as simple as being a basketball player and being a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James or something like that,” Busch said. “And being a really good player and the team losing a sponsor and then saying, okay, Michael, LeBron, you guys, we’ve got to let you go. Because we can’t afford you. You know what I mean?
“So, again, you have to have some sponsorship on that car and unfortunately right now there’s just not that unicorn. There’s not that big $20 million number out there. I’d like to be able to piece it together, but haven’t heard much on that yet either.”
He also noted that if seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt had been on the free agent market in the late 1990’s, his current situation would be akin to something like that.
“I hate to make comparisons, but somebody told me this a week or so ago. It would be like Dale Earnhardt in 1998, three or four years after winning his last championship, being on the free-market agency and not having a ride. You know what I mean? Like that just sounds crazy.
“So, I don’t know what to do, how to fix that again. It’s the unicorn, it’s the sponsorship that you need to be able to continue to go forward. That’s just where it’s at, you know? So, hoping we can find something.”
Busch expressed numerous times that even with all the noise that his contract talks have stirred up as of late, his first option is to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing, which has been his home since 2008, and where he has won the majority of his races and both Cup Series championships.
“It’s just a mess right now,” Busch said. “So, just trying to sort through it all the best I can. There’s a lot of factors that go into this and really, I don’t want to be going through this. My first option, my first goal, my first set is to be at Joe Gibbs Racing and stay with Toyota and have nothing change, you know?
“But yeah, that unicorn hasn’t fallen out of the sky for 20 million bucks or whatever it is. And I don’t think it needs to be that number. Because obviously there’s a number in that that then pays a driver and I’ve already said that I’m willing to take concessions and race for under my market value. And go forward to being able to stay in the seat that I’ve made home for the last 15 years.”
However, should things fall through with Gibbs, Busch added that he is keeping the option open to race elsewhere, as he has been in discussion with other teams in the garage area.
“My first 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 that I continue to talk and evaluate each place and each situation to find something.”