Kyle Busch Has Lost a Crucial Bargaining Chip While Dealing With JGR

The only way Friday could have gone worse for Kyle Busch financially is if he owned stock in Bed Bath & Beyond, which saw shares of its stock plunge 40%. Busch’s fortunes tanked courtesy of a report by Motorsport that Aric Almirola is returning to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023.

With settling into the No. 10 Ford apparently no longer an option for Busch, he is running out of alternatives to staying on at Joe Gibbs Racing. The relationship has been frayed by haggling over money as the driver and team face losing major sponsor Mars, Inc., after the season.

Aric Almirola’s change of heart affects Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch waits on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Aug. 13, 2022, in Richmond, Virginia. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Kyle Busch waits on the grid during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Aug. 13, 2022, in Richmond, Virginia. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Kyle Busch, 37, is too good not to be driving in the NASCAR Cup Series. But his No. 18 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the few seats not yet spoken for in 2023. The most intensely discussed opportunity for him should Busch not return to JGR was Aric Almirola’s ride at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola announced before the season that he was retiring at the end of the year. However, speculation heated up this summer that Almirola was willing to remain at SHR for another year to help the team maintain a lucrative sponsorship deal.

On Friday, Motorsport cited multiple sources in reporting Almirola is definitely back in the fold, with the official announcement to come in the near future. That will give the team another year of sponsorship from Smithfield Foods, Almirola’s key backer for a decade.

SHR hasn’t commented on the report, and chief competition officer Greg Zipadelli was evasive on Wednesday while speaking with racing media ahead of the weekend’s Cup Series race at Watkins Glen.

“We’ve waited a lot longer to make some of those decisions to try to build around, so I think we’ll be fine there,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of good options and just kind of waiting to see how everything plays out.”

Kyle Busch is still the key piece of Silly Season

Even if Stewart-Haas Racing gets Aric Almirola back, that doesn’t mean it has set its lineup. There’s been season-long speculation that Cole Custer’s hold on the No. 41 Ford isn’t firm.

However, SHR’s Greg Zipadelli gave at least a lukewarm endorsement for Custer’s return next season. “Right now, I believe that’s what our plan is,” he said.

So, Busch remains the biggest name unaccounted for in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series, and his No. 18 Toyota remains the most desirable ride that is unfilled. Joe Gibbs Racing has an heir in waiting in the form of Ty Gibbs, the grandson of the team’s owner.

However, Busch still holds one advantage: Toyota remains firmly in his corner. There’s speculation the manufacturer’s racing division could provide the funding that bridges the gap between what Busch is seeking and JGR is offering for a short-term contract.

Two other names to consider: Kurt Busch and Ryan Preece

Ryan Preece has been serving this season as a reserve driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, picking up a few assignments in the Xfinity and truck series. Aric Almirola’s presumed return to the 2023 lineup seems to freeze Preece out of a full-time Cup Series ride.

And then there’s the case of Kyle Busch’s brother. Kurt Busch is in his first season at 23XI Racing but is about to miss his fifth and sixth races with concussion-like symptoms. Ty Gibbs has been filling in for a month, and Tyler Reddick will be coming to 23XI from Richard Childress Racing in 2024.

The No. 45 Toyota’s status is uncertain for 2023. Kurt Busch is under contract, but the slow recovery from the brain injury might be enough to convince him to retire. If he’s convinced that it’s his brother making that decision and not Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, would Kyle Busch take a one-year deal at 23XI? It would keep him in the Toyota family and give Busch the last laugh in his frustrating negotiations with JGR.

It’s extreme, but it might be Busch’s best option now that Almirola has taken away a key Silly Season card.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.

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