Kyle Busch is close to a decision on his future

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch says he hopes to make a decision soon about where he will drive next season.

Busch, speaking at NASCAR’s playoff media day, told reporters Thursday that he has many options ahead of him.

He would not put a timeline on his decision, but when asked if he expected to make it in the next seven to 10 days, Bush said: “It has to be. … Obviously, time is ticking. There are many other options and many more dominoes to fall. Speaking of which, I’m the first to leave.

Busch confirmed that a return to Joe Gibbs Racing remains an option.

Bush said “more than one (team) that has paper in front of me, yes.”

MORE: TRD President: ‘We’re doing everything we can … to keep Kyle in our family’

This situation started last year when Mars, Inc. announced that he will not return to the team and the sport after the 2022 season. Mars, Inc. reportedly paid about $20 million per season to sponsor Busch’s No. 18 team at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Joe Gibbs Racing had a potential sponsor pull out earlier this year, setting things in motion for Busch’s tumultuous summer.

Asked by NBC Sports last month in Watkins Glen about what he went through during that process, Bush said, “It’s been pretty damn hard. It was a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out what your future holds and stuff like that.

Part of the challenge was what would happen to Kyle Busch Motorsports if he left Toyota and went to another team and manufacturer.

“I would say the Truck Series option with Kyle Busch Motorsports probably made this situation 80-85 percent more difficult than it would have been for me alone,” Busch said. “I would have been done by now if it was just me.”

With five months to go until the start of the 2023 season, Joe Gibbs Racing is running out of time to find a sponsor that can fully finance the #18 team.

The situation led some to question whether Bush’s personality was such a factor that he couldn’t announce a sponsor. As talented as he is — some consider him the best of his generation — it’s easy to find clips of him doing things or making comments that might raise questions for some potential sponsors.

Asked if Kyle’s polarizing personality had an impact on securing a sponsor, Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said last weekend at Daytona: “Of course. Absolutely. We say every week that it is not good enough in this sport at the highest level to be the best driver. Kyle Busch is in the conversation for greatest of all time. … He is in the process of bettering every record the sport has ever seen.

“That’s not enough in this sport. You need corporate America, sponsorship, to steer the ship. Whether that’s a good thing or not is none of my business. This is a fact.

“The environment was challenging. Some of it is just organic to the current economy, inflation, recession, you name it. Part of that is absolutely, again, the polarizing nature of some drivers. They are not suitable for every sponsor.”

Wilson noted that Bush has been “maybe charming” in recent weeks.

“He knows in his core that he’s auditioning for somebody, and he’s well-served to be that Kyle Busch,” Wilson said. “It’s been fun, and here’s what I’ll say, it’s not just in front of (the press), it’s on an interpersonal level. He makes an effort. He absolutely is.”

Bush was engaging and charming in his nearly 30-minute session with reporters Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Of course, it came in a more relaxed setting away from the track.

Bush acknowledged that his personality may be a factor in seeking a sponsor, but said there are other factors as well.

“The perception is yes, it’s probably harder to sell a sponsor being one, but I’ll challenge that fact to name the last $5 million to $10 million sponsor to come into our sport recently.”

With a limited number of major sponsors, will Bush have to change his personality?

“I feel like having the freedom to be able to act or react to certain situations the way I was able to through the support of M&M’s allowed me to be as successful as I was on Sunday, 1,000 percent,” Bush said. “So is that going to have to change? Most likely How much 10%, 15%?’

Then he said with a smile “maybe it’s 18%”, referring to his car number.

Despite all that, Busch says he remains confident he can win his third title this season. He enters Sunday’s first playoff at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on USA Network) seeded 11th in the 16-driver field.

“I feel like we’re a top-5, top-6 team right now,” Bush said. “We just have to clean up some of our mistakes.”

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