Kyle Busch open to pay cuts, options outside of NASCAR as he searches for 2023 seat

Kyle Busch open to pay cuts, options outside of NASCAR as he searches for 2023 seat

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Busch started his Saturday by joining previous winners at the sacred Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a class photo at the Yard of Bricks.

He sat alongside Arie Luyendyk and ahead of Marcus Ericsson, Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves – a total of eight Indianapolis 500 titles flanking the only active NASCAR driver with multiple cup championships.

And yet Busch still has no contract for the coming season. His longtime sponsor is retiring from NASCAR at the end of the season, and unless Joe Gibbs Racing finds a full replacement for M&M’s and Mars Inc., Busch will have to find a job elsewhere.

It’s an unfathomable situation for Busch, the 2015 and 2019 NASCAR champion and winner of 60 career cup races, all but four of which have won since he joined JGR in 2008. He wants to stay in the #18 Toyota, but the clock is ticking.

“It would be like Dale Earnhardt in 1998, three or four years after winning his last championship, to be in the free agency market and not have a ride. That just sounds crazy,” Busch said. “I don’t know what to do, how to fix this.”

Despite his credentials, Busch knows he’s taking a pay cut. Motorsport’s business model is based on corporate finance and the market is radically different from when he signed his first contract with Gibbs in 2007 and even when he signed his last contract renewal in 2019.

“You’re talking about what you want and I think you’re implying that I’m asking for heaven on a salary or something and I’ve already admitted that I’m willing to make concessions,” Busch said. “I feel like the market is different than it was years ago and I’m ready to run below my market value.

“You have to be sponsored in this sport to get ahead. It’s not that easy to be a basketball player and be Michael Jordan or LeBron James and be a really good player and then the team loses a sponsor and then you’re like, ‘OK, Michael, LeBron, we have to let you go. We can’t afford you.'”

Busch admitted the stress caused “a lot of sleepless nights” as NASCAR races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday. NASCAR will race on the street circuit for the second straight year; Busch finished 20th last year but won back-to-back Brickyard 400s at the Oval in 2015 and 2016.

He has one win this season and is qualified for the playoffs. But his current team was shaken when Denny Hamlin and Busch lost their one-two on Sunday at Pocono Raceway because their Toyotas failed inspection — an escalation because the series doesn’t tolerate nonsense with its new next-gen car.

“It’s overkill for what it was, but I get the process for the car and make sure the example is out there,” Busch said of the suspension.

Typically sassy and brash, Busch has been rather muted on this and nearly all topics because he’s clearly worried about what’s next in his racing career.

He said he speaks to teams throughout the NASCAR garage and can’t even do all the conversations directly. He knows he has the skills to retire from full-time NASCAR racing and create a schedule of bucket-list racing across multiple series, but it’s likely a last-ditch option.

Busch wants to keep his seat at Gibbs, end of story.

“My first goal is to be with Joe Gibbs Racing and be with Toyota and not change anything,” Busch said. “If the wheelchair music stops and I’m still standing with no seat, I’m screwed. So I have to keep talking and evaluating every place and situation and finding something.”

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