ANDERS: Busch's SHR departure yet another twist
By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, August 6, 2017
In February, Kurt Busch was basking in the biggest race win of his career, having just added a Daytona 500 victory to his resume.
Six months later, it appears he is out of the No. 41 car at Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the season.
Life comes at you fast, right?
NBCSports.com and Motorsport.com reported Tuesday that SHR would not pick up the option for next season on Busch’s contract, making him a free agent at the end of 2017. In response, the race team’s official Twitter account posted a tweet that it “expect[s]” Busch to be behind the wheel of the No. 41 next year.
Busch himself confirmed Saturday morning he is a free agent, and said he already has had interest from other teams in signing him.
There is always the possibility that the team and Busch could renegotiate a new deal for him to stay with the team. Assuming, though, the 2004 Cup Series champion does become a free agent, it throws another wrench into a silly season that has been one of the wildest in recent memory.
In fact, if Busch is indeed looking for a ride, he isn’t even the only former Cup champ to be in that position, as 2003 titlist Matt Kenseth is in that same boat.
Busch’s mercurial personality nearly got him run out of the sport in the early part of this decade, but a career renaissance saw him land at SHR in 2014, handpicked by team co-owner Gene Haas to pilot a car alongside then-driver Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick in the team’s stable. He has collected at least one win in each of his four seasons there, including the aforementioned Daytona 500 this season.
This season has been a struggle for Busch, who has just nine top-10s in 21 races and has led just six laps entering today’s race at Watkins Glen.
At 39, he is clearly closer to the end of his career than the beginning. I wrote after his 500 victory that the win sewed up his spot as a Hall of Famer, and I still believe that. He has 29 career wins, having collected at least one victory in all but three of his 17 seasons of full-time Cup competition.
That said, the question he would face as a free agent is a simple one: Who has the room for him?
Monster Energy, one of Busch’s primary sponsors, is in its first season sponsoring the Cup Series and has not committed to Stewart-Haas beyond this season. If Busch is forced to look elsewhere, there aren’t a lot of quality rides out there, and the ones that could potentially be there are all beset by the same sponsorship woes.
Lack of corporate backing is threatening to dump Kasey Kahne out of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 car. Richard Childress Racing has an opening for its No. 27 car with Paul Menard’s impending departure, but that team has essentially no sponsorship for that car and would likely have to find something before it could put Busch in it. Erik Jones will vacate Furniture Row Racing’s No. 77 car after this year, but team owner Barney Visser is on record as saying he wasn’t sure if the support would be there to continue that car.
That two former Cup champions who still have competitive years left could potentially be sidelined next season because sponsorship dictates a lack of quality rides is a scary prospect and does little to instill confidence for the long-term future of the sport. NASCAR is clearly in the midst of an influx of youth the likes of which the sport hasn’t seen in more than a decade and it’s entirely likely that a sponsor willing to spend its money — which seems to be growing fewer and further between — in the sport would be more likely to latch onto a young driver the likes of Kyle Larson (who is losing sponsorship from Target after this season) than Busch or the 43-year-old Kenseth.
Busch has quietly constructed a career with statistics that put him in the upper echelon of drivers in this generation. Whether it could have been even better had he not run himself out of two championship-winning organizations will never be known, but this represents a crossroads in his career and it will be interesting to see where it takes him.
OVERTIME: It was a busy week on the rules front, as NASCAR also moved to eliminate the “overtime line,” thankfully eliminating that phrase from the sport’s lexicon.
Effective immediately, NASCAR is reverting back to its former green-white-checker policy in which the leader must complete a full lap and take the white flag for a race to be official. There is one change: there will now be unlimited attempts to get a full lap in, as opposed to a limit of three attempts previously.
The overtime line was a valiant attempt to combat the increasing regularity of frightening crashes at Daytona and Talladega under green-white-checker circumstances. I get that, but at the same time, an ambiguously located line on the backstretch where fans in attendance can barely see it won’t go down as one of the sport’s better ideas.
I like the idea of having to get back to the start-finish line to take the white flag, but my only hesitation is unlimited attempts. It could never come into play, but should, God forbid, a race have to go to a fourth or fifth attempt and the finish be altered due to something like cars running out of fuel, that would open a whole other can of worms. Teams show up planning to race to a certain distance and shouldn’t have to combat the idea of an infinite number of laps being added.
Treating fans to a green-flag finish is almost an unconquerable task for NASCAR, as no solution is likely to please everyone. While this latest attempt could end poorly, it should at least clear up some of this overtime nonsense.
They weren’t going to keep Kyle Busch out of Victory Lane forever, and now that he’s finally gotten his first one of the year, the field might have a hard time keeping him out of Victory Lane at Watkins Glen, where he is the leading active driver in wins (two), top-5s (five), top-10s (nine) and average finish (7.9).
PICK: Kyle Busch.
Contact Jordan Anders at email@example.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.