Kurt Busch’s rough year ended on a sour note on Sunday.
Busch finished 20th at Dover, and was eliminated from the NASCAR playoffs.
His season was one of ultimate highs and ultimate lows. He won the Daytona 500, but couldn’t capitalize on his success.
“My car never, ever had the handle in it this year — where I was always loose in [the corner], tight on exit,” he was quoted as saying on ESPN. “Loose in, tight on exit. I don’t know why we had that so bad this year.”
But now, things go from bad to worse.
Busch doesn’t have a ride for 2018, and even though he and Stewart-Haas Racing want him back, there are complications to having him in the No. 41 next season, despite a career that has produced 29 wins, 130 top 5’s, 256 top 10’s, and 21 poles. He should be locked up by now, with someone.
“The 41 car is kind of still in the air,” Tony Stewart said in remarks reported by Motorsports. “The reason we didn’t exercise Kurt’s option wasn’t because we don’t want him there. We fully intend on having him next year, but it’s obviously dictated on sponsorship. These cars don’t run themselves, and it costs a lot of money to do it. We need to make sure we have sponsorship for that car before we commit to him for next year.”
Busch wants to be back, and has said, “It’s as easy as them giving me an offer,”
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.
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 he recently 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, shows 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.”