Numbers matter in NASCAR, and it goes beyond first, second, and third place. Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevy and Richard Petty’s No. 43 car are motorsports institutions, and Kurt Busch has undoubtedly relished sporting the statement-making No. 1 on his Chip Ganassi Chevy for three seasons.
Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin have gone so far as to incorporate their signature numbers into the 23XI Racing moniker.
Out of the blue on Friday, “45” came back into play, and with it comes a big responsibility for Busch. He will uphold the legacy of the legendary Petty family.
Kurt Busch’s next move is to Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing
Busch gets around like the goatskin flask at a Phish concert. Since making his NASCAR Cup Series debut for Roush Racing in 2000, he has also driven for Penske, Phoenix Racing, Furniture Row Racing, Stewart-Haas, and Chip Ganassi Racing.
CGR is leaving the Cup Series at the end of the season, selling to Trackhouse Racing and leaving Busch without a 2022 ride. He reportedly began speaking to 23XI Racing in the spring, and the parties finally announced their deal one day before the regular-season finale at Daytona.
Although other details, including whether 23XI Racing secured a second charter for the team, will come later, we already know that Busch will drive the No. 45 Toyota.
Busch has already driven the Nos. 97 and 41 Fords, the Nos. 2 and 22 Dodges, and the Nos. 51, 78, and 1 Chevys. However, the No. 45 Toyota will be different because of the close association with the late Adam Petty and his father.
Kyle and Adam Petty drove the No. 45
Adam Petty drove the Petty Enterprises No. 45 Chevy for a little less than a season and a half before tragedy struck. While practicing for the Busch 200 Xfinity race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on May 12, 2000, Petty’s throttle stuck wide open, and the car hit the turn 3 wall nearly head-on, killing the 19-year-old driver instantly.
Petty was fourth-generation NASCAR royalty. Lee and Richard Petty built the empire, and then Kyle came along to keep the racing bloodline intact. Son Adam was winless in 43 Xfinity starts but making progress and would have eventually hopped into his grandfather’s signature No. 43 ride in the Cup Series.
Kyle Petty took over the No. 45 Chevy for the remainder of the 2000 Xfinity season and switched to that number from 2001-08 in the Cup Series.
Kurt Busch will drive the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing
With the exception of one Chad McCumbee start at the end of the 2008 season, the No. 45 car has been missing from Cup Series tracks since Kyle Petty, now an NBC analyst, retired that year.
In total, the No. 45 car made 830 starts from 1950-2008. The only drivers to win in it were Eddie Pagan (four in 1956-57) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (two in 1964).
Petty never won over 245 career starts in that car, but Busch is just the sort of driver who can pull the 45 onto victory lane on behalf of Jordan and Hamlin. A veteran of 21 full seasons, Busch has won 33 Cup Series races, including at least one in each of the past eight seasons.
Petty has given Busch his blessing to put the “45” on his 2022 rides.
“We look forward to seeing that number back on the race track contending for race wins and championships,” he said in a statement. “Seeing the number compete again, under the 23XI Racing banner, with Kurt behind the wheel, is exciting for us. While the number will always hold many memories of Adam, we know Kurt, Denny and the entire organization will represent it well.”
It’s doubtful there will be a dry eye in the Petty or 23XI garages the day Busch scores his first victory with the new team.