Where Would Kyle Busch Leaving Joe Gibbs Racing Rank Among the Biggest NASCAR Silly Season Moves?

The overriding saga of the 2022 Silly Season has been the potential departure of Kyle Busch from his longtime home at Joe Gibbs Racing and is increasingly likely to end with one of the most significant driver changes in the history of the sport.

Busch is the most decorated active driver in NASCAR with Cup Series championships and tied for ninth all-time with 60 race wins during his 18 full-time seasons at the sport’s highest level. He also has an Xfinity Series championship and 225 combined NASCAR wins, which outpace Richard Petty’s 200 for the most in NASCAR history, although all of Petty’s wins came at the Cup Series level.

Now comes the odd part.

Busch might not return next season to the JGR No. 18 team, where he achieved both his 2015 and 2019 Cup Series titles, and all but four of his 60 career wins. He initially broke into the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 car but moved to JGR after his first three full-time seasons.

Loss of primary sponsor was the initial reason Kyle Busch might leave Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch during practice for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400
Kyle Busch | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Mars Inc. has been the primary sponsor for Busch and the No. 18 car with its M&M’s brand throughout his 15 years as the driver of that car, but the company announced before the 2022 season that this would be its last in the sport for the foreseeable future.

That decision was a massive blow to JGR. The Mars sponsorship was one of the longest tenured in the sport and one of the few that was a primary sponsor for the vast majority of the 38 races each season.

JGR has struggled throughout the year to find a viable replacement, and the back-and-forth between Busch and the organization this year has led to the point that the most likely scenario is Busch will drive for a different organization in 2023.

Which company Busch moves to is still unknown, but it will still arguably be the biggest Silly Season change in the sport this century, if not all-time.

Other Hall of Fame-level drivers have made similar mid-career changes

Tony Stewart is the only other driver who had multiple championships since 2000 in hand when he made a career change. Stewart also left JGR after 2009, but he had only 33 career wins at the time of the move, and he left in part because of a chance to be a co-owner at what became Stewart-Haas Racing.

He was only 37 years old then, though, and still won a third championship in 2011 and 16 more races in his final eight seasons. Stewart is 15th on the all-time Cup Series wins list with 49.

Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Cup Series champ, left Roush Fenway Racing after the 2012 season with 24 career wins when he took over the No. 20 car at JGR from Joey Logano. He won a career-high seven races at age 41 and was the runner-up for the 2013 championship in his first season at JGR. He wound up with 15 victories in the No. 20 car and finished with 39 in his career.

2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.’s path to JGR in 2019 included several different stops, and he had raced full-time in the Cup Series for 10 years before he had multiple wins in a season. Truex has 31 career wins, but his move to JGR was because his Furniture Row Racing team shut down after the 2018 campaign.

The other big change in terms of notoriety was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Earnhardt was easily the most famous driver of the time, and he had 17 wins through his eight years at DEI and was only 32 years old.

Earnhardt won nine races across his 10 years at HMS but never won a championship and finished with 26 career wins.

Busch, meanwhile, is already tied for ninth on the all-time Cup Series wins list with Kevin Harvick, who also had a big mid-career move from Richard Childress Racing to SHR in 2014. However, most of Harvick’s success has come since he changed organizations also at age 37. He had only 23 wins then and did not win his championship until his debut season at SHR.

Drivers ahead of Busch on the wins list, such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, and even Petty, did not change organizations after they had reached the level of success Busch has achieved.

Any comparable changes would be from the 1970-80s era of Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, and Cale Yarborough, whose career peaks preceded the large, multi-car organizations that exist today.

There is still a decreasingly small chance Busch could stay with JGR after this year and complete his career at the company where he has built his Hall of Fame resume. More likely, the 2022 Silly Season will include the biggest change the sport has seen in decades.

Stats courtesy of Racing Reference

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