CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BVM) – Kyle Busch is one of the most recognizable faces in NASCAR. For the past 15 years, the Las Vegas native has driven the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and has been dubbed “The Candyman” thanks to his notable sponsorship with Mars, Incorporated. However, in 2023, things could look different for Busch and JGR.
The 37-year-old Busch is a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (2015 and 2019), who first competed in NASCAR’s truck series when he was just 16 years old. Racing in the Cup Series for the first time a couple of years later in 2003, Busch has since become a staple in each of NASCAR’s three main series and holds the records for most all-time wins across all three series with 224. His 62 wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and and his 102 wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series are both all-time records, while Busch is also the only driver to earn 60 or more victories in each of the three series.
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) April 18, 2022
Earlier this season, Busch won the Cup Series’ Bristol Dirt Race, tying Richard Petty by winning at least one race in 18 consecutive seasons. His 60 wins in the Cup Series have him tied for ninth all-time with Kevin Harvick. They are the only active drivers in the top 10.
A CRAZY FINISH ON THE BRISTOL DIRT!
KYLE BUSCH WINS! pic.twitter.com/yAMFlrW3fE
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 18, 2022
However, the victory in April has been his only of the year. He has had 12 top-10 finishes, including second place in back-to-back weeks at Charlotte and World Wide Technology Raceway, but his results over the past couple of months have left a lot to be desired.
Perhaps, it’s due to the questioning and turmoil that has recently surrounded Busch’s status with his team of 15 years. Late last year, it was announced Busch’s longtime sponsor, Mars, Incorporated, would be ending its partnership with the accomplished driver and be leaving NASCAR altogether. Meanwhile, the 2022 season has also been the last for Busch under his current contract with JGR.
Speculation about Busch leaving was further fueled in April when he made some interesting comments regarding his status with the team that provided greater uncertainty for his future. JGR president Dave Alpern debunked some of the controversy as recently as July, however, stating the team was still hoping to work out a new deal with Busch.
Joe Gibbs himself furthered that notion later in the month, stating that the deal has just been one that is hard to work out, especially considering the fact that Busch is looking for a new sponsor.
“It’s just trying to get something done,” Gibbs told NBC Sports before the Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30. “You get up every day and go after it as hard as you can. You would hope that this would have already been resolved, but it’s not. It’s been hard.”
Around the same time, Busch also made it known he would be “willing to take concessions” to remain on Gibbs’ team. However, it seems more and more unlikely the two will come to a deal as the future is now for JGR. That future is Gibbs’ grandson, Ty Gibbs.
Just 19 years old, Ty is an up-and-coming driver who was the 2021 ARCA Menards Series champion.
— ARCA Menards Series (@ARCA_Racing) October 24, 2021
Ty also made his Xfinity Series debut in 2021, becoming just the sixth driver to win his first race at that level. He would go on to take the checkered flag three more times in the series last season, and has impressively won five more Xfinity races this season with the most recent coming in early August at Michigan.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) August 6, 2022
Ty has made five appearances thus far in the Cup Series, with his debut coming at Pocono on July 24.
— 23XI Racing (@23XIRacing) July 24, 2022
Ironically, the 19-year-old has filled in with 23XI Racing for Busch’s older brother, Kurt, who will miss the remainder of the 2022 regular season as he continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms following a crash during qualifying at Pocono.
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) August 18, 2022
Ty placed 16th in his first Cup Series race, followed by a 17th-place finish at Indianapolis and his first career top-10 at Michigan. After a tough day at Richmond where he finished 36th, Ty bounced back to finish 26th this past weekend at Watkins Glen – six spots ahead of Kyle.
However, the build up to the race at Watkins Glen is where controversy started once again. Last week, on his “Stacking Pennies” podcast, driver Corey LaJoie claimed that Kyle will not be back in the No. 18 car next season.
“Kyle Busch isn’t driving the 18,” Lajoie said. “It’s not happening. I hate it for the Kyle Busch fan. He will find a job somewhere. Hearing some rumors, there are certainly offers on the table. Two potential Chevy teams. A potential Ford team. And there’s also an option potentially with Toyota. But I think we’re going to see our little buddy in the 18, guys. That’s just the way it is.”
With Kyle continuing to struggle, still without a sponsor for 2023, and continuing to search for a new deal this late into the season despite being with JGR for 15 years, it seems the writing may be on the wall, especially as Ty continues to look good in his first Cup Series action. There already seems to be no love lost between the two drivers based on the Richmond race a couple of weeks ago where Ty bumped into Kyle to gain track position.
Further controversy also came about last week while Ty made an appearance on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Dale Jr. Download” podcast where the young driver mentioned some of the mentoring Kyle had done for him. However, some of Kyle’s past actions that were alluded to, specifically ones that were directed towards Earnhardt Jr., led the now retired driver and NBC Sports personality to call the current driver of the No. 18 car “a hypocrite.”
Originally, many assumed Ty would be brought up to NASCAR’s main series in 2024 and likely take over the No. 19 car currently occupied by Martin Truex Jr. Now, it seems that may happen a year earlier than expected.
For Kyle, he may look to join another Toyota-based team, also the team his brother is a part of in the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing. Or, perhaps he already has something else in the works as LaJoie alluded to in his podcast.
No matter what happens, there is no doubt that JGR is looking towards the future, one that’s about a budding superstar in Ty, and likely doesn’t include one of NASCAR’s infamous drivers in Kyle.