Sunday, December 4 2022

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They joked about their past and talked glowingly about their future.

Both Richard Childress and Kyle Busch are NASCAR champions. They are both fighters.

But will they fight and win championships together?

That is the question going forward, as Kyle Busch moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing next year. Six-time champion car owner Childress and two-time champion Busch announced the move Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Kyle Busch moves to Richard Childress Racing

Bob Pockrass reacts to Tuesday’s news that Kyle Busch is moving to RCR in 2023.

Childress opened his presentation by presenting Busch a watch, saying, “Will you hold my watch?” It was a nod to their infamous fight in 2011, when Childress handed grandson Austin Dillon his watch before putting Busch in a headlock and decking him after a truck race at Kansas.

Turns out it was Dillon who made the first call to Busch about two months ago to see if he would be willing to drive for RCR.

“I was kind of surprised,” Busch said about the call.

Dillon, who once was offered an Xfinity Series ride at Kyle Busch Motorsports, said it was a pretty simple discussion.

“I said, ‘What about coming to drive at RCR?'” he said of his chat with Busch. “And he said, ‘Do you think your grandfather would want me?’ And I’m like, ‘He just wants to win.'”

Austin Dillon on recruiting Kyle Busch

Austin Dillon talks about the process of recruiting Kyle Busch to the RCR team.

Now Busch — in the No. 8 RCR car, replacing Tyler Reddick, who will either drive a third car at RCR or move to another team — and Dillon — continuing in the famed No. 3 RCR car — will be teammates for at least the next three years.

Joe Gibbs’ grandson, Ty Gibbs, is expected to fill Busch’s slot at JGR.

“At the end of the day, one team and one owner emerged as the clear choice,” Busch said. “The second I sat down with [Childress], I knew that his company and his people and the culture around there had the ability to compete for championships from day one.

“So now, for the moment you all couldn’t wait for: I’m excited to announce that I’ll be taking my talents to Welcome, North Carolina, to drive the No. 8 car for Richard Childress Racing starting in 2023.”

Will talent be enough? Maybe. Here’s why this combination will be successful … and why it won’t.

Why it will work

No one doubts Busch’s talent. He has won 214 races across the three national series. The only real blemish on his record is the past four years. He won only one race — the championship race — over the final 20 events in 2019. He has won only four times since. His most recent win on a paved oval came in June 2021.

“I’m hopeful that a fresh start can kind of clean up some of the aggravations of mistakes and things like that that have kind of happened over the last couple of years on my side of things,” he said Tuesday.

RCR hasn’t had a driver of Busch’s talent since Kevin Harvick left following the 2013 season. The team has had good drivers but not first-ballot Hall of Famers. Busch could lift the program to heights it hasn’t seen since Dale Earnhardt won RCR’s most recent title in 1994.

“I’m the only two-time champion in our sport currently,” Busch said. “If anybody is going to do it, I would certainly think I have the capabilities of being able to do that and help support their ventures … to make them championship-caliber.”

Kyle Busch on what went wrong at JGR

Kyle Busch talks about the reasons he and JGR ultimately split.

Busch hopes the fresh start at RCR will also create excitement, and he said he believes in what Chevrolet is doing in expanding its racing technology center in North Carolina.

And Childress, at age 76, knows time could be running out in his career.

“A lot of people ask me why I’m still in this sport,” Childress said. “I’m still wanting to win that next Cup championship.

“And I know I got a driver here — not that I haven’t had drivers that can do it, and not that Austin can’t do it. … But I think it increases our odds with Kyle in there to win a championship for RCR.”

Some will say Busch’s surly attitude when he gets frustrated could ruin any potential benefits, but there’s something to be said about two “old-school” racers teaming together.

Plus, there’s one thing that will certainly make Busch happy: Chevrolet has an IndyCar program. Busch has not hidden his desire to race in the Indianapolis 500, but Joe Gibbs wouldn’t allow him to do it.

“I made sure it was in the deal,” Busch said. “I can go run it if I want to run it. Any IndyCar teams that are Chevrolet, call me up.”

Could we see Kyle Busch in the 2023 Indy 500?

Now that Kyle Busch will be a Chevrolet driver, he talks about potentially racing in the Indianapolis 500.

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Why it won’t work

RCR has speed in its cars, but it has trailed Hendrick, Penske and JGR in recent years. A great driver can’t take a mediocre car and win with it. So the fact that Busch has won his 60 Cup races over the same time that RCR has won just 36 raises the question of just how much his talent and experience can add to the organization.

Busch will drive the No. 8 car with crew chief Randall Burnett, who has guided Reddick to two victories this year. Burnett was told last week that he would likely crew chief for Busch next season.

“We put ourselves in place to win a lot more. We just haven’t closed the deal,” Burnett said. “With Kyle’s help, we’re going to clean up a lot of those things and put ourselves in contention.”

While RCR has shown improvement this year, Busch isn’t known to be patient with change. And while he can get surly, so can Childress. The fact that they had a fight — Childress was the primary aggressor and was fined $150,000, while Busch didn’t get fined in the incident — shows that they both can let their emotions get the best of them. They could become kindred spirits of old-school, rough-and-tumble racers, or they could implode.

“I needed a place where I felt like I could hit reset and I could be welcomed just as I am,” Busch said. “This change will allow for a clean slate, and that’s big for me and my family. … A new boss who accepts where I’ve been and yet can help me get to where I want to be.”

Dillon said RCR’s fighting spirit is unifying.

“Look throughout history about the different drivers that my grandfather’s been able to work with,” he said. “He knows if Kyle’s upset, we’ve got to make something better.

“And something I hope I can bring to Kyle is a calmness. …. We’re just excited. I think we’re a good fit for Kyle.”

Childress said the past is the past between them. And he’s used to hearing that he won’t get along with his driver. It’s something he heard before Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven Cup championships at RCR.

“When Dale first came to me, the media came and told us, ‘This won’t last a year,'” Childress said. “We lasted 20 years. And I know this one will go that far, too. … I’ll tell you just sitting down, talking to Kyle, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will make a great team together for the long haul.”

Richard Childress on his dynamic with Kyle Busch

When Richard Childress hired Dale Earnhardt, people said it wouldn’t last a year. Childress explains why he thinks his deal with Kyle Busch will work as well.

The final reason this might not work is that it won’t be Joe Gibbs Racing, where Busch thrived for most of his 15 years. When his M&M’s sponsorship evaporated for 2023 — a decision JGR and Busch learned about in the summer of 2021 — the two sides figured they could find a new sponsor.

But as this year progressed, it became apparent that they couldn’t land a deal. Busch has admitted that he had to take a pay cut to continue driving in Cup. That and his performance have taken their toll and perhaps made Busch think the grass could be greener at RCR.

“It’s been a struggle,” he said of his past few seasons. “Just trying to put all that together over there and not really see the reap of benefits for all the hard work and everything going into it has been very frustrating.

“And that’s not the reason why I’m out or the reason why I’m leaving. I think that just stems from M&M’s. If they’re still there, am I still there? Most likely. It’s just a matter of business. It is what it is.”

How in the world did it come to Kyle Busch being without a ride?

“The only thing I can say to that is it didn’t happen,” he said of JGR. “Apparently they’ve got other irons in the fire, maybe other sponsors for other drivers, and that’s the road they’re going down.”

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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