Kyle Busch: ‘A lot of sleepless nights’ as contract negotiations stall

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Kyle Busch said Saturday that he is willing to re-sign for under his value on the NASCAR Cup Series free-agent market, adding that “there are a lot of sleepless nights” as the contract negotiations have crept along.

Busch’s candid remarks came ahead of pole qualifying for Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, IMS Radio, SiriusXM) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. It’s the latest in a series of updates on the prolonged talks that will determine where the two-time Cup champion lands for the 2023 season.

“I don’t think money has ever been the objective or ever been the issue,” Busch said. “Obviously, I know what the sports landscape is, I know what’s happening. The talk from my side was that I know there need to be concessions made and to race for under my market value, and I’ve accepted that and told everybody that and just trying to see where all that lies.”

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Busch reiterated Saturday that he has been in discussions with other teams as he weighs his options for next season. But Busch also restated that his primary focus is brokering a deal that keeps him in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota, the seat he’s occupied since 2008.

“I feel as though I’ve said and I’ll continue to say my first goal is to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “But 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 that I continue to talk and evaluate each place and each situation to find something.”

With each week that’s gone by without a deal or an announced sponsor to replace Mars/M&M’s, the Silly Season conjecture has continued to churn. Busch said some of the wilder rumors had entertained him. Hearing the suggestion he might leave NASCAR to run a barnstorming schedule in other racing disciplines, Busch said that option is “probably the farthest down on my list,” though he would not rule it out.

“You definitely get a kick out of it. It’s kind of funny, because there’s actually some ideas thrown that I haven’t thought of,” Busch said. “You’re like, ‘oh, I might want to explore that one.’ But obviously, it’s a mess right now. And so, just trying to sort through it all the best I can. And really, there’s a lot of factors that go into this, and really, I don’t want to be going through this.

“Still my first option, my first goal, my first set is to be at Joe Gibbs Racing and stay with Toyota and have nothing change. But that unicorn hasn’t fallen out of the sky for 20 million bucks or whatever it is, and I don’t think it needs to be that number because obviously, there’s a number in that that then pays a driver and I’ve already said that I’m willing to take concessions and race for under my market value and go forward and being able to stay in the seat that I’ve made home for the last 15 years.”

The contract uncertainty has loomed as a dominant story line for Busch’s 2022 season. Busch’s on-track performance has been no slouch, as he sits eighth in the Cup Series points with a victory on Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt.

The last six races have brought a series of struggles, with nary a top-10 outcome in the bunch and five finishes of 20th or worse. Those woes have synced with the lingering contract limbo, but crew chief Ben Beshore said the two trajectories were coincidental.

“We’ve had a rough last six weeks here of not getting the finishes that we’re used to getting, so that on top of the contracts … the reason we’re not finishing well doesn’t have anything to do with contract talks or anything like that,” Beshore told NASCAR.com. “We had a really fast car last week. It doesn’t affect me and the guys at the shop as far as building the cars and everything, and Kyle’s put in a lot of effort at the shop and on the weekends and he’s dialed in. We’re all trying to finish the best we can every week. So I don’t feel like it’s a distraction at all.”

As for his future, Busch said the discussions have ranged from the short term to longer-range plans and everything in between.

“I mean, anything’s on the table,” Busch said. “We’re talking ’23 options. We’re talking ’24 options. We’re talking long term. Everybody and everything. So the whiteboard is quite full.”