For the first time since the start of the 2001 season, Kurt Busch will not be a full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. He will step away while continuing to focus on his recovery from a concussion while leaving a champion-sized hole in the field.
Losing Busch as a full-time driver was inevitable. After all, he turned 44 in August. Though not many expected that his career would come to a close so unceremoniously and so suddenly.
Busch was still producing during his first season with 23XI Racing, to the point that he secured one win, eight top-10 finishes, and five top-fives in his first 20 races with the team. If not for some late wrecks at Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway, he could have potentially added more wins to his total.
His dominant win at Kansas Speedway put him in the playoffs, and it set up an opportunity to pursue a second Cup Series championship. Apart from winning, Busch just continued to put on a masterclass on how to race at a high level.
Busch didn’t need to shove other drivers out of the way. He showcased the perfect balance of patience and aggressiveness in the No. 45 Toyota, and he used it to put himself in contention for multiple wins.
The situation will now change. Busch will be out of the No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD while Tyler Reddick will move over from Richard Childress Racing to replace him. The Cup Series schedule will continue without Busch’s driving style, his celebrations, or his interviews. NASCAR will also lose the last remaining driver that competed against Dale Earnhardt.
Busch Created Fans & Critics Alike Early in His Career
A divisive figure early in his career, Busch turned heads for various reasons. He won 24 Cup Series races between 2002 and 2011 while driving for Roush and Team Penske — 10 consecutive seasons with at least one win. He also captured the 2004 Cup Series championship.
While Busch achieved success on the track, there were other moments that tarnished his reputation. He had numerous angry outbursts over the radio, which now have a home on YouTube. Some were with Team Penske owner Roger Penske, which played a role in his departure from the organization after 2011.
Busch, who saw a sports psychologist to help with anger, also had run-ins with media members. He verbally berated ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, threatened to beat up Bob Pockrass while on probation, and tore up an interview transcript that Jenna Fryer showed him at Richmond Raceway.
The Situation Changed as Busch Aged
While there were incidents that sparked criticism, Busch evolved off the track. He remained one of the best drivers in the field, even with underfunded operations such as Phoenix Racing. He just made changes away from it.
Busch’s reputation improved as he aged, which had a direct impact on fans, sponsors, and opportunities. He began driving for better-funded teams in Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, and 23XI Racing. He also added 10 more wins to his total while continuing to showcase the skills that made him a star early in his career.
The perfect example of this is how he landed a seat at 23XI Racing. Team owner Denny Hamlin revealed after signing Busch that he had done extensive homework. He had lunch with multiple former teammates of the 2004 Cup Series champion to gain some insight. What he learned is that Busch was “one of the best” teammates that the drivers had during their careers.
In regard to his relationship with the media, Busch became a sought-after figure. Media members knew that he would give thought-out, detailed answers regardless of race outcomes. He could provide a unique analysis of what went wrong, how he could have improved, or the key moment when he knew he was going to reach Victory Lane.
Busch clearly has a passion for NASCAR, and he has put it on display many times. It came across in one-on-one interviews with media members and in larger settings. Busch also showed this passion while working as a part-time analyst for FOX Sports.
Busch will still showcase his love of NASCAR in the coming years, albeit in a different way. He will potentially spend more time in the broadcast booth while providing analysis about important races. He will also have a presence at the track, whether it is while making a one-off start or supporting some other drivers.
The veteran will remain involved with 23XI Racing while helping mentor Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Hamlin previously made it clear that Busch will have a role as long as he wants one. When he originally delivered this message, he focused on Busch’s role as a driver. Though Hamlin’s comments also extended to a role as a team leader.