After a career spanning more than two decades, Kurt Busch’s tenure as a full-time competitor in the NASCAR Cup Series has come to a close, albeit earlier and under different circumstances than originally expected.
Busch, who started the year as the selected pilot for 23XI Racing in a second entry, announced Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he’ll step away from full-time competition at NASCAR’s top level, effective in 2023.
A native of Las Vegas, Nevada, Busch has been sidelined for the last 12 NASCAR Cup Series events, as a result of concussion-like symptoms that appeared after a crash in the final round of qualifying at Pocono Raceway.
Since the accident, the 44-year-old has worked diligently to be cleared to return to the NASCAR Cup Series. That opportunity won’t present itself this season, though, as Busch confirmed Saturday that his doctors have advised him to “shut it down” for the year.
So, why decide to step aside for 2023, despite the season being four months away? For Kurt Busch, a champion of the NASCAR Cup Series, the decision it comes down to accepting the reality of the situation.
“This is more about being unselfish and respecting what has to happen in this industry, and that’s to know how to make a team move forward,” Busch said in his press conference on Saturday. “I believe in 23XI and everyone here, and for me, I will get back to 100 percent, I promise.
“I have a great team of specialists, Toyota Performance Center has been wonderful and I will keep pushing myself, and my health to get back to that priority first, and then we can decide about racing afterward.”
Notice that the word “retirement” hasn’t been used in a final sense. That’s because this isn’t the end of Busch’s career – in NASCAR or otherwise – but rather a transition between chapters for the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“The emotional side in all of this is talking to former drivers and former crew chiefs,” Busch continued. “I called all my crew chiefs and started to reflect on the different trophies and the different moments we’ve had, it’s been a nice journey of going through the full yearbook. Talking with Tony Gibson, the Harley J. Earl trophy is at my house, in my office, and it had new meaning after all of this, so yes, it’s been fun to reflect on it.”
After reflecting on his career, Busch was adamant that there are still things, both inside and outside of NASCAR, that he hopes to accomplish before closing the book on his racing career.
“My passion is what continued to push me to find the other things that are still missing, whether it’s a win at Darlington, I never won at Darlington, that one slipped through my fingers a bunch of times,” Busch said. “Watkins Glen, that was a tough one to not race there this year, that was a big one, I finished second to Montoya.”
“Michigan, this might sound weird, but I’ve won there with Chevrolet, I’ve won there with Dodge, I’ve won there with Ford, I wanted to win there with Toyota this year, and I didn’t get that chance with a really good car.”
“So there are those little moments of things I want to accomplish, but then there’s those bucket list items of going around the world, going with Monster or with Toyota, whether it’s LeMans, or Australia, or racing in Asia, that’s still my push and that was going to be the goal when I was done with full-time Cup, it just happened a little sooner.”
As far as potential specifics for a part-time schedule next season, the 34-time NASCAR Cup Series winner says with everything progressing as quickly as it has, those things are still unknown. But, any semblance of a part-time schedule would likely rely on approval from Busch’s doctors.
Having developed into one of the most respected figures in the garage, the post-driving opportunities look to be endless for Kurt Busch and could include anything from an advisory role with 23XI Racing and/or Toyota, or a stint in the broadcast booth – which Busch says he’s reached out to FOX Sports about – or possibly even stuff on the sponsorship side.
“There is so much out there, I’ve yet to zero in on all the different possibilities,” Busch said.
As Busch continues to approach the finish line of his chaotic story in NASCAR, the 44-year-old has seemingly developed what looks like a sense of closure about the way things have played out this year.
“I’m at peace where things are,” Busch reassured. “I was close to the end of my contract and that full drive for a championship run, we were close to that anyhow. So, it just happened a little sooner. To race part-time and enjoy things with a little less pressure, I think that will help fulfill things and close that door.”
Setting aside his season-ending accident at Pocono, Busch says that no matter what happened, the end of his full-time career in the NASCAR Cup Series was coming sooner rather than later.
“To pursue a championship and to run 36 race weekends, week-in and week-out, it was getting tough for my body to go through it, no matter what, and so this just changed the course a little, but I’m happy where things are.”
Busch’s career in the NASCAR Cup Series – containing 21 full seasons and 776 starts (ranked 12th all-time) – is easily considered to be Hall of Fame caliber, boasting 34 victories and a series championship.
Who is to say that this is the end of Busch’s legacy in NASCAR, though? Whether it is through a successful part-time driving stint, contributions to an up-and-coming organization in 23XI Racing, or a role in presenting the sport to fans, both old and new.
As Kurt Busch said in his heartfelt statement to fans: “Next year, my contributions may look a little different, but I will continue to give my best to this sport. And, if I’m cleared, maybe you’ll see me at select races.”