Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CHARLOTTE, NC – Kyle Busch wanted to drive for a racer’s racer.
Richard Childress saw a gleam in Busch’s eye that reminded him of the late Dale Earnhardt.
At the end of a long exploration process during which Busch weighed his options for 2023 and beyond, the two men put aside past differences and arrived at a multiyear deal that will have Busch driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, starting next season.
Busch will end his 15-year tenure in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after competing for a third NASCAR Cup Series championship this season.
In RCR, he sees a team on the upswing. At the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum in early February, he took notice.
“I think it started earlier this year when we were racing at the (Los Angeles) Coliseum when the 8 car blew my doors off and was driving away,” Busch said during Tuesday morning’s announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. “I certainly knew right then and there at the beginning of the season that those guys definitely had some speed.”
With Busch in a contract year in 2022, Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson and driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, suggested making a play for the 37-year-old driver, who is tied for ninth on the all-time NASCAR Cup victory list with 60 wins—and tied with Kevin Harvick for most among active drivers.
“It just seemed that their overall culture—being around Richard, talking with Austin and having the chance to just look at the whole picture of what’s going on with RCR of late, and I felt like it was a no-brainer,” Busch added.
“When Richard and I sat down and we first had discussions of this opportunity, it was easy. It was a clear-cut choice that this was a place that you could go win races and win championships right out of the gate.”
Busch will replace fellow 2022 championship contender Tyler Reddick in the No. 8 Camaro. Reddick announced in July that he will leave RCR and drive for 23XI Racing in 2024.
Reddick remains under contract with RCR for the 2023 season. Childress said on Tuesday he plans to run three chartered Cup cars in 2023, but Reddick’s crew chief, Randall Burnett, will serve in that capacity on Busch’s team next year.
“I met with him (Tyler Reddick) about an hour ago, and I explained to him that he wasn’t going to drive the 8 car next year,” Childress said. “We’ve got a contract for him to drive for RCR next year, and I wanted to talk to him before this official announcement.”
In Busch, Childress is hiring an elite driver who has a combined 224 victories across all three NASCAR national series. Busch’s 102 NASCAR Xfinity wins and 62 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series triumphs both are series records.
“When I was up there with Kyle and we first started talking,” Childress said, “and we talked about championships and we talked about winning races, I looked at him in his eye, and I had seen that look in Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s eye that he’s hungry—we’re going to win.
“I’d seen that look before, and watching Kyle, I’ve watched his talent since he started in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series, and just how he handles the car, the car control, the way he drives the car and take-no-prisoners attitude, that’s the Dale Earnhardt style I was accustomed to racing with, and I think Kyle has that modern-day style of racing that Dale Earnhardt had in his time.”
Earnhardt, of course, won six of his seven Cup championships with RCR and was ushered into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural Class of 2010.
Though the announcement confirmed Busch’s status for next year, it left many questions unanswered, among them the source of a charter for Reddick’s 2023 ride and sponsorship for Busch’s team (though Childress said he already had commitments and would announce sponsors later).
The specifics of the Kyle Busch Motorsports NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team remain unsettled, though Busch said he expects KBM to compete as a Chevrolet team next season, after serving as the flagship truck team for Toyota during his tenure at JGR.
“Obviously, there was an announcement today with RCR and Kyle Busch and KBM has not been a part of that yet,” Busch said, “although we are still working on that sort of stuff with General Motors and Chevrolet.
“Kyle Busch Motorsports intends to compete in the Truck Series as a Chevrolet-branded team next year. Whether that’s two, three, four entries, we’re not quite certain on that yet, but we’re working through those details as we can right now, and hopefully, again, we can have an announcement on that here shortly.”
To make a deal, Busch and Childress had to get past a bit of rocky history. In 2011, after Busch tangled with an RCR truck driven by Joey Coulter, Childress took of his jewelry and punched the KBM driver. The fracas became known as the “Hold My Watch” incident.
When Childress appeared at Tuesday’s press conference, he presented Busch with a “signing bonus” in the form of a new Rolex.
“We both have grown a lot over time,” Childress said. “We talked about it, and all that’s history.”