If Earnhardt is right, then the winningest driver in the history of NASCAR’s three national series will join an organization that professes to be in the business of trophy hunting.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. sees Kyle Busch leaving for Kaulig Racing
Noah Gragson helped JR Motorsports reach a milestone on Saturday at Darlington. By surviving a wild finish with Kyle Larson and Sheldon Creed, Gragson scored the 10th victory of the season for the Xfinity Series team owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. That breaks the team record of nine victories in 2014.
Earnhardt, however, made news of his own earlier in the day. While providing TV analysis of the Cup Series qualifying for Sunday’s Southern 500, he speculated Kyle Busch has made his decision about where he’ll be driving next season.
While many observers believe Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing will work out their differences, others project the two-time Cup Series champion with well over 200 race victories across the three series landing at Richard Childress Racing.
However, Earnhardt said his money is on another suitor: the upstart Kaulig Racing team. While it’s true others have suggested the same scenario, they lack the insider status Earnhardt has as a team owner and a multi-media personality with access to numerous powerful figures.
And, by the way, Gragson figures into the scenario.
Signing Kyle Busch would be such a Kaulig Racing thing to do
The first-year Kaulig Racing team hasn’t made a Trackhouse Racing-like breakthrough in the NASCAR Cup Series, but the organization cannot be taken lightly. Remember, they won their first race (AJ Allmendinger on the Indianapolis road course last year) before even formally joining Cup Series racing.
Owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice speak frequently of “trophy hunting,” and the team quickly built a strong Xfinity Series program. Allmendinger leads the series in points, and Kaulig signed the defending champion (Daniel Hemric) and one of racing’s underrated veterans (Landon Cassill) in pursuit of a 2022 series championship.
Additionally, Kaulig shocked the NASCAR world last year by landing two charters rather than the presumed one in anticipation of full-time Cup series racing this season. Justin Haley has had a decent season in the No. 31 Chevy, and Allmendinger, Hemric, and Noah Gragson have shared the No. 16 Chevy.
With Gragson leaving for Petty GMS in 2023, Kaulig might consider dropping ride-sharing to put Kyle Busch in that car. Of course, the owner’s we’re-not-messing-around approach to competition could also inspire Kaulig to go hunting for another charter for a third car.
Did Chris Rice tip the team’s hand last month?
Speaking on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s The Morning Drive in mid-August, Kaulig Racing president Chris Rice said plans for 2023 were coming together, and announcements could begin before the Cup Series playoffs. We now know that isn’t happening, but that just makes the anticipation greater.
“I know the world out there is making all kinds of ideas and thoughts about what we’re doing,” Rice said, alluding to rumors about Kyle Busch. “But I always enjoy that, and I think it’s funny how — you know, I call it the Twitter world or Instagram or whatever the social media world is. I love engaging with the fans and people and love what they say.”
The intriguing aspect of Rice’s comments came when he acknowledged he’s looked at adding a trucks team or IMSA cars to the Kaulig fleet.
“You know Matt Kaulig, he wants to win trophies. We’ve even looked at late model stuff, starting a late model program.”Chris Rice
It’s the trucks aspect that caused ears to perk up. Kyle Busch Motorsports is an established and successful team in the truck series and currently aligned with Toyota Racing Development. If Busch leaves Joe Gibbs Racing, that almost certainly means moving his trucks relationship to another manufacturer.
Should he sign with Kaulig Racing to continue his own Cup Series career, a deal with Chevy to migrate his truck team would follow within minutes.
Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]