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September 13, 2022

Kyle Busch joins RCR for 2023, ending tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing

Richard Childress Racing announced Tuesday that Kyle Busch will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for the organization in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series, bringing an end to the two-time champion’s long-running partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The announcement — held Tuesday morning at the NASCAR Hall of Fame — means Busch’s 15th season with Coach Joe Gibbs’ organization will be his last. The 37-year-old driver won Cup Series titles with the team in 2015 and 2019, and he is JGR’s winningest driver, collecting 56 of his 60 total Cup victories with the No. 18 team.

“RCR has an impressive history in NASCAR and I’m honored that Richard is putting his trust in me to come in and continue to build on that legacy,” Busch said in a press release. “Growing up in a family of passionate racers myself, I feel like the culture that the Childress family has built within their organization will be an ideal fit for me. As I begin the next chapter of my career, I’m looking forward to driving for RCR and working with everyone there to add more wins and championships to both of our resumes.”

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Busch will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet beginning in 2023 of what is a multi-year deal, with Randall Burnett serving as his crew chief. Tyler Reddick, who currently drives the No. 8, remains under contract to RCR and will drive for the team next year in a yet-to-be-announced ride. Reddick had previously announced he will drive for 23XI Racing beginning in 2024.

“The addition of Kyle Busch to the Richard Childress Racing lineup is significant, not only for our organization, but for the sport as a whole,” Childress said in a team release. “Kyle is a proven contender at the highest levels of the sport, and I believe that his experience and dedication to motorsports will elevate our race program across the board. I’ve always admired Kyle’s driving style and his ability to win and race for championships ever since he entered the sport. Who wouldn’t want a proven NASCAR Cup Series champion driving their car?”

Tuesday’s news brings an end to the long-running contract uncertainty that has surrounded the series’ top free agent this season. The move also creates a high-profile vacancy for the No. 18 ride, Gibbs’ original team since his first venture into Cup Series competition in 1992.

Busch had been open about his status in the weeks before his decision, telling reporters in July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway he was willing to re-sign with JGR for less than his current value on the free-agency market. That aspiration, he said, was clouded by the organization’s search for a top-tier sponsor to replace longtime partner M&M’s/Mars. Busch indicated on Sept. 1 at Cup Series Playoffs Media Day he had multiple offers to consider, and that the negotiation process had weighed on him.

“Trust me, my gut doesn’t feel good, and that’s not just for decisions being made, but more so of decisions being weighed and the perception in how you come across to all of those that you’re going to disappoint, right?” Busch said at Media Day. “There’s going to be one winner, and the rest are not winners, if you look at it in that regard.”

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David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development president, had stressed the importance of keeping Busch in the automaker’s fold as discussions were ongoing, saying that “any other scenario is just unacceptable.” Busch ranks as Toyota’s top winner in all three NASCAR national series with 203 of his 224 total victories achieved during his time with the manufacturer.

“I mean, Kyle Busch is our 60-home run hitter,” Wilson said Aug. 27 at Daytona International Speedway. “And we’d be foolish not to put everything in play to keep him in the family.”

Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota are now absorbing the loss of Busch’s looming departure from the heart of their batting order, and both groups will work to fill the vacancy. A handful of prospects for the seat exist in JGR’s Xfinity Series pipeline, including Ty Gibbs — a five-time Xfinity winner this year who has filled in for the injured Kurt Busch in the last eight Cup Series events.

Kyle Busch laughs after receiving a watch box from Richard Childress
Richard Childress gets a laugh out of Kyle Busch when he tells him to “hold my watch” at Tuesday’s press conference. (Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Studios)

“Kyle has been a major part of our history and success here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Gibbs said in a team release. “We are thankful for all his contributions to our organization over the years. When you look at all that he has accomplished already, it is truly remarkable, and we know someday we will be celebrating his Hall of Fame induction. We also know he still has many more achievements in our sport ahead of him including competing for the championship this season. We wish Kyle, Samantha, Brexton, and Lennix the very best.”

The partnership of Childress and Busch — the former a Hall of Famer, and the latter a sure-fire inductee once eligible — might seem like an unlikely union. After an escalating series of tense moments between Busch and then-RCR driver Kevin Harvick, Childress confronted Busch after the driver had a run-in with Joey Coulter — another former RCR pilot — during a Camping World Truck Series race in 2011 at Kansas Speedway. NASCAR officials fined Childress $150,000 and placed him on probation for the physical altercation.

Both the driver and team owner cleared the air during interviews in recent weeks.

“He and I have talked. We put all of our differences behind us a while back and he’s a great race driver,” Childress said Aug. 28, after Dillon prevailed in the regular-season finale at Daytona. “He’ll land him a good ride somewhere, for sure.”

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Busch joked about the long-ago fisticuffs last weekend at Kansas.

“Who’s to say he hasn’t punched me again in any of these conversations?” Busch said to laughs. “Whenever you go into negotiations, it’s never fun so you’re duking the whole time. I think you grow up and you work through things, and you talk it over. Really, it was fine the first time I sat down with him. Everything was OK. The biggest thing about it was just having an opportunity to kind of put that behind us.”

Kyle Busch Inset Rings
Kyle Busch wore his 2015 and 2019 NASCAR Cup Series championship rings to Tuesday’s press conference. (Alejandro Alvarez/NASCAR Studios)

Kyle Busch qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a victory earlier this year on the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt. That win in April extended his streak of seasons with at least one Cup Series victory to 18.

Busch began his career as a Chevrolet prospect, joining the Cup Series full-time in 2005 with Hendrick Motorsports. He collected four wins with Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 team before his shift to Gibbs’ operation in 2008. Only Denny Hamlin, driver of JGR’s No. 11 Camry, has been aligned with Gibbs longer — since he joined the Cup Series in 2005.

Busch has also enjoyed success on the team ownership side, forming Kyle Busch Motorsports for Camping World Truck Series competition in 2010. Since then, he and his drivers have combined for 98 Truck Series wins and two driver championships (Erik Jones in 2015, Christopher Bell in 2017), paving the path for several of the automaker’s top racing prospects. Busch’s renewed affiliation with Chevrolet on the Cup Series side adds a layer of uncertainty for his Truck Series operation in 2023.

Childress has won six Cup Series championships as a team owner, but none since Dale Earnhardt’s final title in 1994. This season has been Childress’ strongest in recent memory; Reddick and Dillon have combined for three victories, and both qualified for the Cup Series Playoffs.

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