Childress gets the last laugh by snatching Kyle Busch – The Oakland Press
By JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Kyle Busch walked into the garage at Bristol Motor Speedway with a blown engine, ending his storied tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing at 15 seasons.
Of course, there are still seven races to go before Busch hands over the keys to the #18 Toyota. But two blown engines in the first three heats knocked him out, and between now and the November finale, Busch is just rolling on the JGR channel.
It has already found a new home: Richard Childress Racing has recruited the only active driver with multiple Cup championships.
As a signing bonus, Childress presented Busch with a Rolex watch. And told Busch he could race the Indianapolis 500 with a Chevrolet-backed team.
The whole thing felt surreal on so many levels.
As a history lesson, Childress in 2011 attempted to fight Busch after a Truck Series race and even took off his watch before the confrontation. He told a manager to “hold my watch” just before the fight that earned the Hall of Fame team owner a $150,000 NASCAR fine.
And then there’s the reality of what RCR has become over the past 15 years. Childress features a two-car team that last won a Cup title in 1994 with the late Dale Earnhardt. Busch, a two-time champion with 60 career wins, is 37 and likely has a decade of racing in him.
There’s also Tyler Reddick’s messy July announcement that he was leaving RCR at the end of the 2023 season to drive a Toyota for 23XI Racing. RCR barely had a chance to begin talks of a long-term extension and Reddick’s defection – even though he gave the team a year to occupy his seat – seemed like a crippling blow.
“We are focused on winning the Championship in 2022 and 2023,” Childress said in a terse statement the day Reddick announced his decision, “although the timing couldn’t be worse.”
RCR has fallen on hard times and has long since lost its place among the NASCAR elites. Reddick’s departure could have been devastating with all the sponsor lineups and the notion that Reddick was a key part of Childress’ rebound.
He needed a splash replacement.
Kyle Busch, come down.
It was Childress who had the last laugh, despite Toyota’s stunt for Reddick to “bomb” a scheduled media zoom for the surprise reveal he was to drive for Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. Toyota believed he had fired a quick shot at Childress, a former NRA board member who in 2017 shot three intruders who broke into his home.
His answer was to take the precious jewel of the Toyota fleet. Busch is not only Toyota’s winningest driver at NASCAR’s three national levels, but his Kyle Busch Motorsports program is Toyota Truck Series’ flagship program.
Busch is now returning to Chevrolet – where he began his career as an 18-year-old with Hendrick Motorsports – and his trucks are also moving to a Chevrolet team. It’s the biggest free agent signing in NASCAR since 2007, when Rick Hendrick fired Kyle Busch to sign Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“When we talked about winning races and winning championships, I looked him in the eye and I had seen that look in Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s eyes,” Childress said of his new driver. “He’s hungry. We’re going to win.
“When all the (Busch) rumors started and you were walking through the racing store, the excitement in people’s voices when they were asking, ‘Is Kyle Busch really coming here to drive for us? “, Continued Childress.
Childress even got revenge on Reddick, who won two races and qualified for the playoffs with the No. 8 team. Childress said that Busch will drive Reddick’s car next season, with Reddick’s crew chief, and that he’ll put Reddick in a third Chevy that doesn’t even exist yet to complete his contract.
Of course, that’s only if Childress isn’t looking for a takeover from Toyota or 23XI to get Reddick a year earlier than expected. 23XI has two cars, but Kurt Busch has been sidelined with a concussion since July and his return is uncertain. Hamlin said 23XI is planning Kurt Busch’s return next season and a contingency plan that doesn’t include Reddick is already in place.
Reddick’s feelings aren’t hurt.
“I saw it from a business perspective. They’re looking to the future and what’s going to be best in the long run,” Reddick said. “I’m sure I could understand how people might think it’s personal, but I don’t see it that way. For the long term of the RCR, it makes sense to put it in car 8.”
Ultimately, the credit for signing Busch goes to Austin Dillon, grandson of Childress and driver of the #3 Chevrolet. It was Dillon who told his grandfather to put the 2011 fight with Busch in the past and focus on what Busch can bring to the RCR in the future.
“It was about what is the future of the RCR and where to go from now? In my mind, there was a guy in free agency that everyone would love to have,” said Dillon, who thinks Busch can “elevate your competitive side right off the bat. And it moves the needle when it comes to marketing. He really does. He has a huge fan base.
“As far as Kyle is concerned, he wants to go fast and win races. The people at our shop are really excited to have a guy with his kind of experience. We want the race team in Welcome, NC North either at the top every week and be considered a contender We are on an upward trajectory so we need to continue on this path.
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