The announcement was supposed to be about Kyle Busch’s NASCAR future. It also turned out to be a nod to NASCAR’s past.
It was a few ticks on the stopwatch after 10 a.m. Tuesday when the two-time Cup Series champion from Las Vegas walked on stage at the NASCAR Hall of Fame at the Charlotte Convention Center accompanied by his wife, Samantha, and son, Brexton, to make it official: He will be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2022 season to drive for Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress.
It was stock car racing’s equivalent of LeBron James announcing he would be putting Cleveland in the rearview mirror to sign with the Miami Heat.
“I’m excited to announce I am taking my talents to Welcome, North Carolina, to drive the No. 8 car for Richard Childress Racing,” Busch, 37, said in inviting his new boss to join him on the dais.
It wasn’t long before Childress, 76, woke up the echoes (to use another expression made popular by the stick-and-ball sports) by invoking the name of the man who made him a Hall of Fame car owner.
“When we talked about championships and we talked about winning races, I looked in his eye and said, ‘I’ve seen that look in Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s eye,’ ” Childress said of first sitting down with Busch, who could make a shopping cart go fast.
“He’s hungry, and we’re going to win.”
Blast from the past
Childress and Earnhardt together won six Cup Series championships and the Daytona 500 (one of the few races Busch has yet to win). Although Earnhardt’s talents were more celebrated by the sport’s traditional fan base than Busch’s are today, the two were equally irascible — another reason this new multiyear agreement seems more perfect than a balanced set of Goodyear Racing Eagles.
“It’s flattering; it’s a great honor,” Busch said of the comparison. “Dale Earnhardt, though, is Dale Earnhardt. And there’s only one of those.”
More compelling to him was the resurgence displayed by Childress’ team this season in putting both of its Chevrolet-powered drivers — Tyler Reddick (who will leave the team after 2023) and Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon — into the NASCAR playoffs with three wins, two more than Busch has in his 15th season of running Toyotas for Gibbs.
“I think it started earlier this year when we were racing in the (Los Angeles) Coliseum (in the exhibition opener) and the 8 car (Reddick) blew my doors off,” Busch said about Childress’ drivers climbing the speed charts, and his decision to join them after M&M Mars, his longtime sponsor at Gibbs, decided to pull out of NASCAR after the 2022 season.
Childress said he had commitments from multiple sponsors to back Busch next season, none of which he disclosed.
“Just having that chance to look at the whole picture of what’s going on at RCR as of late, I felt like it was a no-brainer,” said Busch, who also plans to keep his championship-winning Truck Series team afloat despite switching manufacturers. “When Richard and I sat down, it was easy. It was a clear-cut choice that this was a place you could win championships and win races right out of the gate.”
So when it comes to making strange bedfellows, it now can be said that politics and NASCAR are running side by side and trading multiple layers of paint.
Astute fans might remember a 2011 truck race at Kansas Speedway after which Busch and Childress engaged in a physical confrontation. The former had bumped one of the latter’s drivers after the checkered flag, and the latter had somebody “hold my watch” before punching the man who would become his new driver and putting him in a headlock.
When Childress joined Busch on stage Tuesday, he presented the Las Vegan with a shiny timepiece in a familiar green box that cost a lot more than a set of Goodyear Racing Eagles.
Childress also handed Brexton Busch a folded document that he insisted was a contract option for the budding 7-year-old racer to join his pop’s new race team when he was old enough to see over the steering wheel.
The man from the NASCAR Hall of Fame said that somebody should hold on to that sheet of paper because the curators might want it back some day.
Meet the new boss
A look at Richard Childress Racing, the NASCAR team that Kyle Busch will join in 2023:
Base: Welcome, N.C.
Cup Series races: 1,557
Cup Series wins: 112
Cup Series championships: 6
Last Cup Series championship: 1994
Current drivers: Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon
Notable past drivers: Richard Childress, Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Robby Gordon, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, Brendan Gaughan