Kurt Busch may be the hottest free agent in NASCAR right now, and there’s endless speculation on where he’ll end up in 2018. Stewart-Haas has said, quite clearly, the team wants him back driving the No. 41 Ford Fusion in 2018.
Now, Busch has weighed in with what appears to be an endorsement for such a return.
“It’s as easy as them giving me an offer,” Busch told USA TODAY Sports.
Team founder Gene Haas echoed Busch telling MotorSports.com that he expects Busch back next year.
“I’m 99.9-percent positive he’ll be driving the No. 41 car,” Haas said. “It’s just an economic deal, where we’re not exactly sure what Monster wants to do. I guess you could say it’s a buyer’s market right now in terms of advertising on a race car.”
The sponsorship issue is a salient point. Monster, the energy drink company has been the primary sponsor of Busch’s car the last two seasons and, according to NBC Sports, is weighing its future with NASCAR. So, that’s up in the air.
Busch, in his comments to USA Today, said he was proud of the work he’s done on Monster’s behalf:
I don’t know what their stance is on it, but they’ve always told me they love my personality, they love my tenacity out on the track and the ability for their customers to root for a car on track is very important to them,” Busch said of his relationship with Monster.
Haas expanded on his comments in an interview with KickinTheTires:
Once we have a better grip on the money and the direction we’re going into and who the sponsor’s going to be, then we can sit there and finalize something with Kurt. We expect Kurt to be back next year. But I’m sure he’s pretty panicky, going, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ But it seems like these things take longer and longer every year. But we’re optimistic.
Busch has been noticeably measured ever since SHR let him know it wouldn’t renew his contract for next year.
But recently, Busch’s comments have taken on a ever so slight edge, and in one case, noting the decision has left his crew “flustered.” In this case, there are many ways of saying unhappy without using the word. The first indication of that came last week, when Busch, who won Daytona this year, made a point to note that he brings in a ton of sponsorship to a team that has had some serious sponsorship woes.
“It’s a unique situation for our sport, though, to have a Daytona 500 champion — who delivers eight figures in sponsorship money — in a free agency situation,” he said.
But this weekend, he amped it up just s hit, making sure SHR knows he has a number of suitors.
“The phone didn’t stop ringing all week, not just because it was my birthday,” he told reporters, in remarks reported by AutoWeek.com. “I’m looking for the best possible option to race a competitive car that’s got a chance to win races, win poles and compete for a championship. There’s different cars that are options for me, and Stewart-Haas is one of them…
But it’s his remarks about his crew that, while measured, measures the frustration of all involved.
“The disruption of them not picking up my option, it gets the crew guys all flustered. Ford is very surprised by it. And so we’ve just got to stay focused, stay sharp. There’s no reason to not think that I couldn’t be back here. It’s just a matter of making it all work out. I’m not too worried about it.”
He’s right, there’s no reason to be worried about it, because he’s going to find a ride. But he’s clearly keeping all of his options open (as he should).
The news that SHR wouldn’t renew his contract set the racing world abuzz last week. Busch is now a free agent, eligible to sign with another team. There are reports the SHR and another of its drivers, Danica Patrick, are discussing whether to end her contract — which runs through 2018 — a year early because of a lack of sponsorship.
His teammate, Kevin Harvick, who drives the No. 4, weighed in, and believes Busch will be back, driving his No. 41.