Kyle Busch chases title, ponders his Cup Series future

Published 9:09 pm Saturday, September 10, 2022

By DAVE SKRETTA

AP Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Perhaps the strangest part of Kyle Busch’s present contract situation, which remains very much up in the air heading into Kansas Speedway, may not be the fact that the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion doesn’t have a ride for next season.

It might be that he could very well win a third.

Busch is eight points to the good side of the cut line heading into Sunday’s second race in the round of 16, despite blowing his engine with 22 laps remaining in last week’s opener at Darlington. And now that he’s heading to what has fast become one of his better tracks, the chances of advancing for Joe Gibbs Racing appear to be quite good.

Doesn’t it seem awkward to Busch to be running for a title for a team poised to let him go?

“It’s kind of business as usual,” he said Saturday. “You walk around and people are a little leery to say, ‘Hey man, how’s it going today?’ Because they know it ain’t going good. They don’t even bring it up. They’re like, ‘Ugh, Kyle’s here.’”

So yes, a little bit awkward.

Busch has won twice at Kansas Speedway after dismal results earlier in his career, though, and he’s coming off a third-place run during the spring race. He’s also sitting in a Toyota, which has dominated the track recently, though he will have to rally from a 20th starting spot Sunday after a poor run in qualifying.

That makes Busch optimistic about his chances this weekend. And he’s trying to do the same with his future.

“I woke up 6 in the morning two days ago thinking, ‘Oh man, what are we going to do with Brexton if this goes, if that goes, if we do that, if we do this,’” Busch said of his 7-year-old son. “Now I’ve got him thrown in the whole mix. It’s crazy.

“But a clearer picture is developing,” he added. “Pixels are being worked on.”

What the picture will show is anybody’s guess.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. did exactly that on Twitter this week with a series of emojis that indicated he thought Busch would replace Tyler Reddick at Richard Childress Racing. Then, Earnhardt tweeted that he initially thought Busch would land with Kaulig Racing before another set of emojis that tied Busch to the 23XI team of Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

Asked whether Busch could end up there, Hamlin said Saturday: “I’m not really sure.”

There are other factors in play: Busch’s successful truck team is powered by Toyota, just like Joe Gibbs Racing, and a move to a team powered by Chevrolet would create ripples that extend far beyond the Cup Series.

“I do think we need to bolster our truck program,” said Jim Campbell, who heads Chevrolet’s racing efforts across multiple series, while attending the IndyCar finale in California. “We’ll see. We’ll see where it goes.”

It’s a strange and complicated situation all around, and one that everyone in the garage is watching with curiosity.

“I’ve been in those situations in the past,” Daniel Suarez said. “Racing at this level is very consuming. You have to work 24-7 to be competitive with your team, preparing physically and mentally, looking at the data, and when you’re in the situation where you don’t know where you’re going to land for next year — teams, contract discussions, all this kind of stuff — at the end of the day, in my mind, with my experience, were distractions.

“Once you get into a race and you put a helmet on, you forget about everything else and you get to drive. Everything else that happens during the week is not as good. Kyle, he hasn’t had that experience in many years.”

Still, the 37-year-old Busch has been around long enough that he knows how to deal with it.

After all, he has 60 career Cup wins and is the winningest driver in the Xfinity and Truck series history, and is still eyeing a third Cup title. And his record-tying third win at Kansas Speedway on Sunday would send him into the next round of the playoffs, while a solid run would set him up nicely for next week’s cutoff race at Bristol.

“It’s just stressful,” he said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not a train, it is sunshine. So that’s a positive thing. I’m trying to figure all that out and keep the train on the tracks right now for a little bit longer.”

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