Concussed NASCAR Champion Kurt Busch to Step Away From Sport

Concussed NASCAR Champion Kurt Busch to Step Away From Sport
NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch tips his cap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in Loudon, N.H., on July 17, 2022. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS—NASCAR champion Kurt Busch will miss the rest of this season with a concussion and will not compete full-time in 2023.

The 44-year-old made his announcement Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his home track and where he launched his career on the bullring as a child. He choked up when he said doctors told him “it is best for me to ‘shut it down.'”

“I know I am not 100 percent in my ability to go out and race at the top level in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Busch said. “These are the best of the best drivers, and lately, I haven’t felt my best.”

Busch said Tyler Reddick will replace him in the No. 45 Toyota at 23XI Racing next season. Reddick was signed to the team for the 2024 season, but is no longer needed to complete his contract at Richard Childress Racing because RCR signed Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother, and a two-time Cup champion, for next season.

“If I’m cleared, maybe you'll see me at a few select races” next season, Busch said.

Busch was injured in a routine crash in July that exposed a design flaw in NASCAR’s new Next Gen car. He’s so far missed 13 consecutive races. Driver Alex Bowman, who was also injured this year, has missed two straight and said this week he’ll be out at least three more.

Busch is the last active driver who competed in a Cup race against the late Dale Earnhardt, and the last driver who was part of the inaugural 10-driver Chase for the Cup in 2004, the year he upset the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut and won his only title.

Busch’s retirement leaves Kevin Harvick as the last active driver who raced when NASCAR’s top series was called the Winston Cup Series.

23XI praised Busch’s contributions to the second-year team.

“From the day Kurt Busch joined our team, we knew he was going to elevate our organization in many ways,“ the team said. ”From earning 23XI our first playoff berth with his commanding win at Kansas Speedway to numerous hours spent off the track helping to grow our program, Kurt has made us better.

Kurt Busch celebrates in victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on May 15, 2022. (Colin E. Braley/AP Photo)
Kurt Busch celebrates in victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., on May 15, 2022. (Colin E. Braley/AP Photo)

“This season took an unexpected turn with his injury. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Kurt has not stopped being a true professional and a trusted teammate. We fully support Kurt’s decision to focus on his health and are grateful for his guidance as our team builds a strong foundation for the future.”

He’s in his second season with 23XI Racing and team co-owner Denny Hamlin said the organization and Toyota want Busch to remain part of the team. He’s under contract through next season to 23XI.

“Kurt’s decision to step away from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition next year is certainly not something anyone expected when we started the season together and celebrated in victory lane at Kansas Speedway earlier this year,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development

“Unfortunate circumstances led Kurt to a difficult decision, but we know that he will continue to contribute to the entire program at Toyota, TRD, and 23XI Racing. He brings a tremendous amount of knowledge and firsthand championship experience to his team and fellow Toyota competitors. We’re here to support Kurt in this next chapter of his career and look forward to continuing to work alongside him.”

Busch made his Cup debut in 2000 with Roush Racing in a Ford, then ran the full season as a rookie in 2001. He was fired after five tumultuous seasons with Roush—a stint that included his 2004 title—and moved to Team Penske to drive a Dodge in 2006.

His Penske relationship also ended poorly after the 2011 season and Busch moved to Phoenix Racing to drive a Chevrolet for James Finch for one season, then went to Furniture Row Racing in 2013 where he revitalized his career—and began to show maturity on and off the track with his notorious temper.

Busch moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and was suspended by NASCAR for the first three races of 2015 for domestic violence allegations made by an ex-girlfriend. He later landed with Chip Ganassi Racing and finally 23XI to drive a Toyota in 2021.

He is one of the rare drivers to compete in all of NASCAR’s manufacturers. Busch and his brother join Bobby and Terry Labonte as the only siblings to win Cup titles.

Busch won 34 races in 776 starts over 23 years, including the Daytona 500 in 2017 with SHR and sponsor Monster, which has remained with him to this day.

“For more than two decades, we have been privileged to watch Kurt Busch compete. He has proven himself a champion on the racetrack, but perhaps just as importantly, he has grown to become a true ambassador for the sport,“ NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. ”Kurt’s drive to improve the future of motorsports has set him apart. We are thrilled that he’ll remain in our sport as a leader and trusted resource. Kurt’s unparalleled passion for racing gives us hope that we will see him in a race car again.”

By Jenna Fryer