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It’s official. Kyle Busch will leave Joe Gibbs for Richard Childress Racing after this season, becoming NASCAR’s biggest free agent signing since Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Hendrick Motorsports 15 years ago.
Busch made the news – rumored and reported on for a week now – official Tuesday in a major press rollout.
Busch, 36, will drive the No. 8 RCR Chevy beginning next season, ending a summer of speculation surrounding the two-time Cup champion.
“This is probably one of the biggest days of my life, my career,” Busch said. “The last few months have been nothing but stressful, I’ll admit. This took a lot longer than I expected it to. I had to find a place where I knew I could go win races immediately.
“Collecting trophies is still the main reason I do this.”
Kyle Busch saga shocks NASCAR world
Busch’s future in NASCAR has been the sports’ top story since word first leaked months ago that contract negotiations with JGR weren’t going as many expected.
The first sign of trouble came in May, with M&Ms – Busch’s longtime sponsor – announced they would be leaving NASCAR altogether after this season.
Throughout the summer Busch dropped hints that he could very well leave JRG – a move that just a year ago seemed improbable.
Busch is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, has a pair of NASCAR Cup titles to his name (2015, 2019), and currently sits ninth on the all-time wins list with 60.
He won earlier this season at Bristol, which is where the Cup Series heads this weekend, but sits outside the playoff cutline with the elimination race looming.
Busch thanked Gibbs Tuesday for “taking a chance on 15-year-old.”
“Coach, you had my back when I needed it most, so thank you,” he added.
Richard Childress, Kyle Busch bury the hatchet a decade later
The move to Chevy is a full-circle moment for Busch, who spent the first five years of his Cup career driving the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports.
He left HMS for Gibbs after the 2007 season, and has piloted the No. 18 Toyota for the past 15 seasons.
During that time, Busch has become one of NASCAR’s most recognizable faces, cultivating a loyal fanbase while also turning into the sport’s biggest villain.
Which makes Tuesday’s announcement even more tantalizing.
Childress infamously attacked Busch over a decade ago after the longtime owner took issue with how Busch treated one of his Truck Series drivers after a race, confronting him in the garage and putting him in a headlock.
Busch said last week that it was water under the bridge, and Childress said Tuesday it was “history.”
“This is a historic announcement for RCR,” Childress added. “It’s a big day for all of us.”
Explaining the Kyle Busch NASCAR saga
For a week now, OutKick has said the race for Busch was essentially down to two teams: RCR and 23XI Racing.
Childress didn’t exactly shoot down the notion last month at Daytona, and word began to spread earlier this month that 23XI was also involved.
Tyler Reddick, who currently drives the RCR No. 8, announced earlier this summer that he was leaving for 23XI after next season – a move that didn’t sit well with Childress.
Shortly after that news broke, Kurt Busch, who drives the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI, suffered a concussion at Pocono and hasn’t raced since. Kurt – Kyle’s brother – will miss the rest of this season due to lingering issues and his future is murky at best.
That led to further speculation that perhaps, if Busch were to retire, Kyle could replace him at 23XI.
Another option that surfaced in that scenario involved Reddick leaving RCR early and taking over the No. 45, which would’ve opened the door for Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8 Chevy.
Ultimately, Childress chose to get acquire Busch by any means necessary, deciding to bring him over next season and removing Reddick from the No. 8 altogether.
Childress said Tuesday he told Reddick of his decision “about an hour” before the unveiling.
“I met with Tyler and explained to him that he wasn’t going to drive the 8 car next year,” he said, adding that Reddick is still under contract for next season and will drive a third RCR charter.
Another key player in bringing Busch to RCR was Austin Dillon, who drives the No. 3. Childress said Dillon, his grandson, came to him earlier this summer about adding Busch to the stable.
“(He) said what do you think about putting Kyle in that car?” Childress recalled. “I said, ‘That be a dream, can you line up a meeting?’ We talked a lot over it and had a lot of work to do to make it happen.”