Kurt Busch believes his decision to step away from full-time NASCAR racing next season is an “unselfish” act with respect to the future of 23XI Racing.
Busch has not raced since July after suffering a concussion in a crash during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. Saturday morning at his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch announced he was still not 100% with his health or cleared to race, and that he will not compete full-time in 2023.
Busch’s decision to step away allows 23XI Racing to put Tyler Reddick in the No. 45 car a year early. Reddick was slated to join the organization in 2024.
“The timelines seemed to have shrunk up as far as what’s going to happen next year,” Busch said. “It’s like, ‘well, I should be better by now and I haven’t been cleared.’ So, this is more of being unselfish and respecting what has to happen in this industry, and that’s to know how to make a team move forward.
“I believe in 23XI and everyone here. For me, I will get back to 100%. I promise. I have a great team of specialists. Toyota Performance Center has been wonderful. I will keep pushing myself and my health to get back that priority first, and then we can decide about racing afterward.”
Busch was clearly emotional, choking up at points when reading his prepared statement about stepping away, but said there was not one moment or circumstance that led to his decision.
“It’s a layer of things, and to be frank and to smile a little bit, I’ve wrecked a lot of in my life,” Busch said. “Old cars. New cars. So, over the years, things add up. Different wrecks this year have made it tough, and the grind to get back each week to 100%, that was starting to get tough this summer.
“Then, with the accident at Pocono, it’s, again, part of everything that’s kind of added up. It’s not one circumstance more than the other. The new car, the Next Gen car, we have to continue to make it safer. We have to learn from each of the circumstances. Whether it’s mine, Chastain’s or Bowman’s or Cody Ware. There have been a ton of hits that we’re all learning from and finding the areas that we need to improve. This is more of a look-out-the-windshield type moment.”
Busch admitted he was pushing himself hard in the three weeks following the crash at Pocono, trying to prepare himself to return. When he wasn’t cleared to return and with the playoffs approaching, Busch withdrew his medical waiver to open a spot for another driver to qualify for the postseason.
“That emotional week was really tough,” Busch said. “The emotions of this are something that I wasn’t prepared for. Nobody is prepared for anything like this.”
Asked about his symptoms and recovery, Busch said vestibular movements (related to the inner ear and sense of balance) are key.
“So, with head movements and torso movements with my heart rate elevated, that’s when things move quick in my peripheral back to right up front,” Busch said. “It’d be like looking in the mirror and then being back toward the windshield and around the competitors and checking the dash. Just things are moving quick and things are slowing down, and things are coming back to me. I just know I’m not at 100%. So, the vestibular side is really where I’m focused on with my concussion.”
The good news is that Busch feels good in everyday life.
“From where I was after the accident to where I am now, I’m feeling really good,” Busch said. “Everyday life is 90, 95%. It’s just that last bit of being 100% and performing at the top level in the Cup Series is what I still know I’m not attaining.”
Busch described his career as “fun” and said he doesn’t regret a thing. On the racetrack, Busch was a contender no matter how he drove and his accomplishments include a series championship, All-Star Race win, and Daytona 500 win. And Busch has always been a driver the garage has looked at as elevating whatever program he was a part of.
The hope is that Busch will one day be cleared to race again, and he can show up and pick the races he wants to compete in. There are still races on the Cup Series calendar that Busch has circled in wanting to win.
But there are other things Busch has his eyes on as well. Busch has already reached out to Fox Sports and plans to meet with them this weekend about whether there is potential in the TV booth. There are also things with his sponsors and 23XI Racing that Busch wants to entertain.
“I’m at peace with where things are,” Busch said. “I was close to the end of my contract and that full drive for a championship run. I was real close to that anywhere. It just happened a little sooner. But to race part-time and to enjoy things with a little less pressure, I think that will help fulfill things and close that door.
“But to pursue a championship and to run 36 races weekends week in and week out, it was getting tough for my body to go through it no matter what. So, this just changed the course a little bit, but I’m happy with where things are. My family, with the race team, with Monster , with Toyota — there’s going to be plenty of things to do to keep that passion alive and to write the final chapter.”