INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Busch started his Saturday by joining past winners of the hallowed Indianapolis Speedway for a class photo at the Yard of Bricks.
He sat next to Arie Luyendyk and ahead of Marcus Ericsson, Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves – a combined eight Indianapolis 500 titles flanking NASCAR’s only active driver with multiple Cup championships.
And yet, Busch still doesn’t have a contract for next season. His longtime sponsor is retiring from NASCAR at the end of the season, and if Joe Gibbs Racing can’t find a deep-pocketed 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, with all but four won since joining JGR in 2008. He wants to stay in the No. 18 Toyota, but time is running out.
“It would be like Dale Earnhardt in 1998, three or four years after winning his last championship, being in free agency and not having a run. It just seems crazy,” Busch said. “I don’t know what to do, how to solve this problem.”
Despite his credentials, Busch knows he’s going to have to take a pay cut. Motorsport’s business model relies on corporate funding, and the market is radically different from what it was when he signed his first contract with Gibbs in 2007 and even when he signed his last extension in 2019.
“You talk what you want, and I think you’re insinuating that I’m asking heaven on 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 have sponsorship in this sport to get ahead. It’s not as simple as being a basketball player and being Michael Jordan or LeBron James and being a really good player. , then the team loses a sponsor and then says, ‘OK, Michael, LeBron, we have to let you go. We can’t afford to pay you.'”
Busch acknowledged the stress has caused “a lot of sleepless nights” as NASCAR heads into Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR will race the road course for the second year in a row; Busch finished 20th last year but won back-to-back Brickyard 400s at the oval in 2015 and 2016.
He has a win this season and is eligible for the playoffs. But his current team was rocked when Denny Hamlin and Busch were stripped of their 1-2 on Sunday at Pocono Raceway because their Toyotas failed inspection – an escalation as the series won’t tolerate any nonsense with its new car NextGen.
“It’s overkill for what it was, but I understand the process for the car and make sure the example is there,” Busch said of the suspension.
While typically daring and brash, Busch was more discreet on this and almost every topic, as he is clearly concerned about the future of his racing career.
He said he was talking to teams all over the NASCAR garage and he couldn’t even keep all the conversations straight. He knows he has the skills to step away from full-time NASCAR racing and build a multi-series racing schedule, but that’s probably an option of last resort.
Busch wants to keep his place at Gibbs, end of story.
“My first goal is to be at Joe Gibbs Racing and to be with Toyota and nothing changes,” Busch said. “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 keep talking and evaluating every place and every situation and come up with something.”