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December 12, 2023

Offseason transitions, take two? Kyle Busch enters second year with RCR making moves, shedding boo-birds

Kyle Busch speaks during a media availability at the Music City Center, before the NASCAR Awards in Nashville
Chris Graythen
Getty Images

After last year’s blockbuster move that sent Kyle Busch to Richard Childress Racing after a 15-year tenure with team owner Joe Gibbs, this offseason might seem a bit lighter on the transition front for the two-time Cup Series champ. Still, Busch said before the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, there’s plenty of movement afoot.

Busch will return to the No. 8 Chevrolet in 2024 with a year of seasoning in Richard Childress’ system under his belt, a year in which he added three Cup Series wins both to his impressive tally and the long ledger of RCR success. What’s changing this offseason is a departure from his role as a team owner in the Craftsman Truck Series, a development that’s meant moving out of the former Kyle Busch Motorsports shop in Mooresville, North Carolina.

“That’s been our offseason project so far, which has been stressful to say the least,” Busch said, noting that he’s relying on himself, wife Samantha and her parents and one other helper to make the move. That’s meant equipment, vehicles and scores of trophies from Busch’s 229 NASCAR national-series wins.

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While that transition has been a crunch all its own, the shift in ownership to Spire Motorsports has unfolded in an overlapping time frame. Busch joked about the rapid-pace nature of the change-over while in Nashville, wondering aloud how long his key-card access to the building might last.

“Dude, the ink hasn’t even dried and the money didn’t even clear in the bank, and the sign out front was changed,” Busch said with a smirk. “So I was like, ‘Damn, guys.’ Like, I’m trying to have meetings in the conference room, and I still own the place, and they’re in there every day and they’re running out of there. I’m like, ‘get the hell out of here. You still got five more days, four more days.’ … It is a little bit weird, for sure, to kind of see all of that changing and the moving of the guard, but you know, it is what it is. It was the right time.”

If there’s another shift that’s altering the status quo, it’s a perceived rise in Busch’s popularity. Chase Elliott was just hours away from winning the NMPA’s Most Popular Driver Award for a sixth consecutive year, but Busch said there was at least colloquial evidence that he was making gains in that department. “I don’t know if I believe that, but I’ll take it,” he said.

The other evidence comes from the unscientific measure of crowd reaction from each week’s driver introductions. Busch says he remembers being the fans’ prime focus of jeers when he was at his most polarizing, but others have drawn the vast share of catcalls in recent seasons. He says he now wonders, “Wait, who was that?” when the boo-birds arise before or after his turn on the pre-race stage, with former teammate Denny Hamlin siphoning away some of the heat.

“When you’re young, you come in and you start beating up on the guys that have been here for a while, people don’t really take well to that,” Busch said. “So you’re not very well-liked, especially doing it the brash way that I did early on, it certainly got some more eyeballs on my name. But you know, as I’ve gotten a little bit older, as I’ve matured a little bit, as I’ve not won as often, people are starting to be like, ‘Hey, man, that guy used to win all the time, but I want him, like I’m gonna pull for him, I want him to win. Let’s see him win some more,’ so it turns the table, for sure.

“I think that that’s pretty awesome. I remember, how many times did Jeff Gordon get booed after a win, right, like in the late ’90s especially? And then his last win that he had at Martinsville, I mean, the crowd went nuts. So it was, times change and the tables turn.”

Popularity aside, Busch’s first year with the Childress organization extended his run of consecutive Cup Series seasons with at least one victory to 19 straight. He crossed that achievement off the list early, winning in the second race of the year at Auto Club Speedway – timing that Busch said was “huge” in taking the pressure off his first RCR campaign.

Wins followed at Talladega Superspeedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, but Busch’s moment in the Cup Series Playoffs was short-cut by elimination in the Round of 12. His win total and 10 top-five finishes marked improvements over the previous year, but more substantial gains were offset by six DNFs and the fewest laps led (241) in his Cup career.

“Well, we started the year really, really good,” Busch said. “Man, if we could have ended the season how we started the season, we would have certainly been something to contend with for the end of the year. I mean, our stats weren’t too far off of the champion’s stats. We had more top fives, we had more top 10s, we just had more DNFs, you know, and the average finish obviously was a couple points worse, but that was from those DNFs. So just need better consistency and taking those finishes of from 12th to 15th and not over-forcing it or over-pushing those runs that we have and spinning out and crashing.”