NASCAR: Kyle Busch’s 2023 replacement is obvious

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

While there were questions as to who would replace Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series team if he didn’t sign a new contract, there shouldn’t be any anymore.

Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing could not agree on a new contract for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, and the two-time champion is set to join Richard Childress Racing, switching from Toyota to Chevrolet in the process.

This situation has taken a number of twists and turns since Busch’s initial cryptic comments about his lack of a contract with Joe Gibbs Racing back in April at Talladega Superspeedway, but despite a few promising early developments, nothing ever came to fruition. Notably, one potential sponsorship deal fell through.

The root cause of his departure from his current team is the fact that longtime partner M&M’s announced after last season that they are slated to withdraw their backing after the 2022 campaign.

While the common belief had been that Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Toyota would find some way to get a deal done, the 37-year-old Las Vegas, Nevada native admitted all along that he had had talks with other teams. All of a sudden, the idea of him signing elsewhere didn’t seem too unrealistic, especially after he revealed that he had received multiple offers.

One topic of discussion surrounding the #18 team has been potential Busch replacements. The driver who obviously gets brought up a lot is Ty Gibbs, the grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs.

However, back in the spring, Joe had said that he wanted Ty to run at least two full seasons in the Xfinity Series before a Cup Series promotion and that he saw no need to rush him.

Ty is obviously still in his first full Xfinity Series season, though you have to believe that if it comes down to it, the fact that he competed in 18 of last year’s 33 races — and won four of them — is quite beneficial to the argument that he is ready for a promotion.

Other names such as John Hunter Nemechek were thrown around, given his success in the lower series since re-aligning himself with Toyota last year. Plus, with Martin Truex Jr.’s future uncertain beyond the conclusion of the 2023 season, it’s not as if Joe Gibbs Racing would necessarily need Busch’s replacement to come in just to warm up Ty’s seat for a year, either.

But most beneficial to the argument that Gibbs is ready for a promotion is what he has done over the last few weeks.

After Kurt Busch crashed during qualifying at Pocono Raceway, he was ruled out of the race with concussion-like symptoms. Ty Gibbs was called upon as his replacement, despite having never before sat behind the wheel of a Gen 7 car.

He started the race from the back because of the backup car and the driver change, but he managed a respectable 16th place finish in his Cup Series debut. He backed that up with a 17th place effort in his Cup Series road course debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and he followed that up with a 10th place effort at Michigan International Speedway.

Mechanical issues sidelined him at Richmond Raceway before a 26th place effort at Watkins Glen International, a 13th place effort at Daytona International Speedway, and a 15th place effort at Darlington Raceway.

While 23XI Racing and Toyota have seemingly benefited from some extra speed as of late, as evidenced by Bubba Wallace’s recent run of four straight top eight finishes, plus his win at Kansas Speedway, Gibbs has proven that the jump to the Cup Series isn’t too much for him to handle.

This is the extra experience he needed to prove that he isn’t being rushed — not necessarily a second full (third overall) season at the sport’s second highest level.

Separately, his Xfinity Series win at Road America over Kyle Larson and runner-up finish at Pocono Raceway following a clean battle with Noah Gragson show that he has come a long way in terms of maturity, even in the last few months.

We’ve reached a point where it would be silly to put anybody in the #18 Toyota other than Ty Gibbs next year, and that’s what it looks like is going to happen.

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The irony of this is the fact that Nemechek was actually the original driver whom 23XI Racing had tabbed to replace either of their two drivers in case of an emergency, which is exactly what happened with Kurt. Instead, it was Gibbs who got the nod, and he has done more than what was asked or expected of him.