JGR, SHR facing different challenges finding substitute drivers for Busch brothers

In finding replacement drivers for the injured Kyle Busch (left) and the suspended Kurt Busch (right), Larry McReynolds believes their respective teams face much different challenges. 

Jared C. Tilton

I think everyone needs to remember that it was pure coincidence that both the Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, missed the Daytona 500. The situations that kept both from running last Sunday couldn’t be any farther apart. Kyle did nothing wrong. He simply was the victim of a very bad crash in the Saturday Xfinity race, unfortunately hitting the inside retaining wall at Daytona that did not have the SAFER barriers.

Kyle suffered a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a left mid-foot fracture. So naturally Kyle will be out for a few weeks. With that said, with the tenacity and passion Kyle has for racing, I just know you should expect Kyle back behind the wheel of his No. 18 Toyota sooner than later.

I think in that situation you need to put a replacement driver in his seat for the short-term that isn’t trying to audition for a job. You really don’t want someone who doesn’t have a ride and is trying to land one. The reason I say that is you want someone who clearly knows what their role is and is going to take care of your race car. You want someone who is going to be solid every week and finish races.

That’s why I felt the choice of Matt Crafton to substitute for Kyle, despite it being Matt’s very first NASCAR Sprint Cup start, was a great choice. Matt is already in the Toyota family. He is a two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion who is seeking his third title in 2015. So, I just think that was a very wise choice on the part of Joe Gibbs Racing because they are really only looking for a short-term fix.

If you now flip the storyline over to the other Busch brother and Stewart-Haas Racing, well, their status is truly unknown. As you probably know, NASCAR suspended Kurt indefinitely for alleged domestic-abuse claims. Now on the plus side of the ledger, we know Kurt can be reinstated by NASCAR at some point. Just like for an individual in the sport that violates the substance abuse policy, NASCAR will outline a road to recovery for Kurt that he will have to follow and adhere to before being considered for having his suspension lifted.

On the negative side of the ledger, there would be an even bigger hurdle for Kurt to overcome. We are a sponsor-driven sport. These race teams simply can’t survive and run all the races without some type of sponsorship. Let’s compare Kurt’s situation to Ray Rice’s situation.

For Ray to return to the playing field in the NFL is satisfy the league and the owner of whatever football team that might be willing to take a chance on him. Kurt’s return to NASCAR is a lot steeper than that.

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Kurt not only has to satisfy NASCAR and the management of Stewart-Haas Racing, but also the sponsors affiliated with SHR. I realize that Kurt was sponsored by co-owner Gene Haas’s company, but there’s also his manufacturer Chevrolet, who has already suspended their relationship with Kurt. On top of that, obviously there are the other sponsors like Budweiser, Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, GoDaddy, etc. that are tied to Stewart-Haas Racing. I just have to believe they would have to sign off on Kurt’s return, too.

So that’s where the No. 41 team’s issue is — apple and oranges, in my book, from the No. 18 team’s issue. I think Stewart-Haas Racing has to take a hard look at the fact they might have to find a full-time replacement for the driver of the No. 41 car. They are going to have to look a little deeper and a little harder.

I think Regan Smith is a great short-term fill-in for them. Stewart-Haas Racing announced Monday that Regan Smith will run again for them this weekend in Atlanta, as he did Sunday in Daytona. I just don’t know if he is "the guy" for SHR because naturally he has his full-time commitment to JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

Where does Stewart-Haas Racing go from there? I really don’t know because the basket of available quality drivers out there for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series is a pretty darn small basket.

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