Kyle Busch willing to make 'concessions' to stay with Joe Gibbs Racing
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Busch stated the obvious, but just him saying it Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was notable.
Busch indicated he was willing to make "concessions" as he continues negotiating with Joe Gibbs Racing for a contract extension that would keep him in the No. 18 Toyota next season.
The 37-year-old Busch, who has 60 career Cup wins, last signed an extension in 2019 for the 2020-2022 seasons. He won his second Cup title in 2019 but has just four wins since then.
Mars, the maker of M&M's, told JGR about a year ago that it would end its sponsorship of the No. 18 car after this season and shift its marketing dollars away from NASCAR. That has left JGR looking for a sponsor for Busch, whose annual compensation likely is eight-figures. Driver salaries typically are dependent on sponsorship.
Busch said he isn't "asking for the sky on salary."
"I don't think money has ever been the objective or ever been in the issue," Busch said. "Obviously I know where the sport's landscape is; I know what's happening. The talk from my side was that I know there needs to be concessions made to race for under my market value.
"I've accepted that and told everybody that and just trying to see where all that lies."
It seems the longer this takes, the more frustrated that Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing executives get with the chances of Busch's return. Busch hasn't just delivered for both the team and manufacturer, he owns a team that competes in NASCAR's Truck Series that runs drivers who are part of the Toyota development program.
Busch said he has talked to other teams but said his goal remains to stay at JGR, where has driven at since 2008. He said his talks with other teams have not included any piece of ownership such as Brad Keselowski at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
He hears the rumors — some which give him ideas of possibilities of where he could race next year — and it has caused plenty of sleepless nights. There are several teams with owners with deep pockets and potential open seats or ability to add seats — Tony Stewart/Gene Haas, Denny Hamlin/Michael Jordan, Justin Marks/Pitbull, Matt Kaulig, Roger Penske and Maury Gallagher — who could afford Busch if they don't care if they lose money initially and hope that his wins will produce sponsors.
Busch said his feelings on the possibility of staying at JGR have not changed.
"I would say no more or [no] less," Busch said. "They haven't necessarily put a drop-dead date on it for when the [sponsorship] unicorn shows up if something happens. ... My first goal is to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing.
"If the musical chairs music stops and I'm still standing and I don't have a seat, I'm screwed. So I have to make sure I continue to talk and evaluate each place and each situation to find something."
So who would fill in for Busch if he does leave? Joe Gibbs grandson Ty Gibbs has four wins in the Xfinity Series and his 16th-place finish in his Cup debut substituting for 23XI Racing's Kurt Busch (concussion) last week certainly didn't hurt him if anyone had doubts on whether he could adapt quickly to a Cup car.
Gibbs is substituting for Kurt Busch again this weekend in Indianapolis. The 19-year-old said he is trying not to think about being a full-time Cup driver next year. The plan has been for him to run full seasons in Xfinity in 2022 and 2023.
"I can spend as much time as I think about hypotheticals, but hypotheticals will never win races," Gibbs said. "I don't want to be wasting my time on those thoughts. It's not going to help my race car go faster."
It might be easier for Gibbs than Busch to be thinking about who will drive the No. 18 car next year. It's obviously frustrating for a future first-ballot Hall of Famer to be in this position.
"It's not as simple as a basketball player ... and being a really good player and the team losing a sponsor and then saying, ‘OK, Michael, LeBron, we've got to let you go because we can't afford you,'" Busch said. "You have to have some sponsorship on that car.
"Unfortunately, right now, there's not that unicorn, there's not that big $20 million [sponsor] out there. I'd like to be able to piece it together, but I haven't heard much on that yet either."
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!