Any driver who hangs around the NASCAR circuit long enough will arrive at a crossroads about his stock car racing future.
But the two brothers from Las Vegas who have been around for a combined 43 seasons seem to have arrived there at the same time.
Kyle Busch, winner of two Cup Series driving titles and 60 races at the sport’s top level, still is without a ride for next season despite being one of stock car racing’s best drivers.
Older brother Kurt was in the middle of a driving renaissance until he hit the wall during his qualifying attempt last weekend and missed Sunday’s race in Pennsylvania with concussion-like symptoms.
But at 44, he was talking about retirement (again) even before backing into the wall in the Pocono mountains.
Things happen quickly in NASCAR, where the competition has never been keener than this year with the introduction of new cars that have leveled the playing field.
But with just five races remaining before the stock car racing playoffs, the speculation the Busch brothers are generating in regard to their racing futures is lapping the field.
After Kyle finished second at Pocono — in a race ironically named for his longtime sponsor M&Ms that is leaving NASCAR at season’s end and is mostly responsible for his uncertain future at Joe Gibbs Racing — the team owner tapped his driver on the arm as if to say “nice job.”
Busch barely acknowledged the gesture from the Super Bowl-winning coach.
And this was before the Toyotas driven by Busch and race winner Denny Hamlin were disqualified for a rules infraction during postrace inspection, adding to the chocolate covered mess enveloping the team’s most decorated driver.
During a prerace chat with media, Busch’s chin was set at a more positive angle when asked about recent comments from Toyota Racing director David Wilson that “we’re in a bad place right now” and “we’ve got some tremendously heavy lifting in front of us” in regard to finding him a new sponsor.
“It would be nice sooner (rather) than later. But, honestly, it doesn’t matter how soon or how late it gets done,” Busch said about contract extensions that usually occur much sooner in the season.
“Until there’s an announcement that somebody else is driving the No. 18 car, I feel like I still have a seat.”
Everything but the dub.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 24, 2022
But somebody else has been mentioned in conjunction with his seat — and it’s a youngster with the same last name as the guy who signs Busch’s pay stub who would do it for far less money.
The plan was for Ty Gibbs, Joe’s grandson, to spend another season in the developmental Xfinity Series in 2023. But the 19-year-old may be the contingency plan Wilson spoke of in the event the money cannot be secured to pay Busch.
Ironically, when Kurt Busch was injured last weekend, it was Ty Gibbs who strapped into his seat in the No. 45 Toyota co-owned by Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan. The kid drove it to a respectable 18th-place finish — just one spot below Kurt Busch’s average 2022 finishing position.
Unlike his brother, Kurt is set for next season and supposedly has a handshake agreement to stay on with Hamlin and MJ beyond that. But with his team having added budding star Tyler Reddick to its 2024 driver lineup, Busch was mentioning the R-word again before he smacked the wall at Pocono.
The 2004 series champion last week said he was looking forward to driving in NASCAR’s new street race in Chicago next year “then I might be done driving after that.”
He said roughly the same thing two years ago when the team he was driving for was sold. But when Kurt Busch returned to the racing crossroads, he probably never expected to find his brother occupying his parking space.
Kurt Busch has hinted toward possible retirement after next year but he said he has no timeline as far as making a decision. pic.twitter.com/k0e5I7ytDu
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) July 23, 2022
Gragson linked with Cup ride
NASCAR’s recent Pocono weekend was beneficial for at least one driver from Las Vegas.
Noah Gragson held off Ty Gibbs in an exciting 20-lap duel to the finish to win the Xfinity race and increase the odds he’ll be picked up full time by a Cup Series team for 2023.
With three wins this season, the aggressive Gragson sits third in the Xfinity standings and is being linked with the opening at Petty GMS, the Cup team co-owned by Las Vegas businessman Maury Gallagher.
Gragson, 24, made his Daytona 500 debut this year and has driven in six other Cup races for the Kaulig Racing team.