“I am committed to winning. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.”
If one goes to the 23XI Racing website they’ll see the quote you just read proclaimed by the one and only sporting legend Michael Jordan. Leader and overlord of the first-year startup 23XI Racing effort along with driver and co-owner Denny Hamlin and wheelman Bubba Wallace, the power trio will now welcome second driver and 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch into the fold for the 2022 season. Yes, in the form of a press release that went out to the entire racing world on Friday afternoon, the 43-year-old racer with 22 seasons, 33 race wins, 745 race starts and 207,509 laps to his name in the NASCAR statistics site will now move from the soon-to-be extinct Chip Ganassi Cup program over to the 23XI organization to join fourth year Cup driver Wallace in the Toyota-backed race team for 2022
Heading into tonight’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, Busch got us up to speed on what will soon be the net mission of his extraordinary career.
Q: Kurt, I’ve been privileged to be around both you and your career for the last 22 years and I’ve just got to say, what an exciting new chapter for you and, well, your career narrative, this all is.
KURT BUSCH: It’s a dream come true, you know? The gratitude and the appreciation that I have for this opportunity is endless. It’s endless and it’s directed at so many different companies and people. To be with Monster Energy, of course, and to race for Toyota as a manufacturer and to have this brand-new team and to start the team from the ground up with Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin in NASCAR is just amazing. There are so many quality people all around this program that the excitement level is just beyond.
Q: To your way of seeing things, what’s been the reaction of this announcement from the NASCAR fans, the media, the sport and even the guys who walk the garages?
KB: So far it has been everybody cheering for us. Again, this is exactly what everybody that is part of that group saw as a vision and we all agree with it. Toyota was looking for a veteran driver to develop a brand-new car. Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan starting a team in NASCAR last year, to us all of that for this team now and in 2022, the foundation is there. Now we can use this opportunity to go to the nest step. I’m flattered and I’m humbled that I fit so many different people’s agendas and different company’s agendas to put this program together. Again, we’ll have Monster Energy’s swagger and their edginess and the fun that we have together and I’m honored to continue that. After 10 years together, we’re still going to championship programs and winning races.
Q: Being a first-year race effort, the 23XI outfit has been going through some self-described “new team blues.” All of your racing experience and wisdom should overlay quite nicely with the program, shouldn’t it?
KB: That’s why it works so well. The conversations and negotiations and back-and-forth with everybody, it was all so crystal clear on what the agenda was and needs to be. I think that my track record is what really what kind of shines through in this process. When I raced with Furniture Row back when and then started up the car over at Stewart-Haas, it all went well. And then to have the opportunity with Ganassi and changing the aura and the demeanor and then the swagger of the No. 1 car almost instantaneously was so fulfilling.
“That wasn’t something that I just tried to do, I just went through and tried to create a winning culture. And now this gives me, in my mind, that final place to settle, so to speak and to be part of management after I’m done driving. To build a team from the ground up with personnel and crew has been impressive by those guys. I’m not the owner of the team by no means, but I have a role where I feel like I’m a consultant, I’m a driver coach with Bubba and I love to put my helmet on and go 200 miles an hour in the race car. This fulfills me in so many areas and that’s why this is so exciting.
Q: How are Michael and Denny and Bubba with all of this?
KB: Oh, everybody is through the roof of what we can all do together. We have to just find the right pace at making sure it gets done the right way and Toyota’s leadership will help with that. Meeting with Michael Jordan this summer was an incredible moment I my life. He’s like a living Smithsonian. He’s the G.O.A.T. in all sports and he put me at ease within the first five minutes of the conversation I had with him about being a legend in himself and a legend in sports and the bottom line was, “We will win together. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Q: Is Michael a genuine NASCAR fan? Is he psychologically and cognitively invested in it like the rest of us?
KB: Yes, I can tell. I mean, he doesn’t do anything to lose it what he says. I’m the same way. When I started to draw some basketball analogies to motorsport, his eyes lit up and you could tell that his demeanor changed a little bit. He was like, “All right, I get it.” Then I would defer to Denny, the team owner and driver, to help tie-in what I was mentioning. The room just continued to grow and fill with enthusiasm and the passion to make this happen.
Q: Have you spoken much with Bubba?
KB: Yeah, I’ve talked with him and tested with him. It’s time to get together with him now. Whether we’re throwing the football around in the motorhome lot or going out during the week to grab a beer, it’s time to get together. He just got engaged, which is a big moment of any person’s life. So yeah, we have our work to do together. I have to learn the Toyota system and the way they review the races and the information and I want Bubba to teach me some things, but I also want to see how I can make him think harder, think smarter and have more of a drive to get the best out of his race car each and every weekend.
Q: What’s your brother Kyle make of all this?
KB: Kyle has been fantastic. My little brother has been very supportive. I know that he’s made certain calls and made certain texts behind the scenes to Toyota and it seems like the family at Toyota has been wanting to have the two Busch brothers driving at the same time. It is a unique dynamic of racing with a technical alliance with Gibbs through Toyota, and then to have two Busch brothers in the Monday meetings is going to be epic.
Q: In some ways this all seems like it was meant to be. What do you think and what comes next?
KB: You know, it’s staying compartmentalized in 2021 with the regular season ending in Daytona and with the playoffs beginning in Darlington and finishing as strong minded with a championship effort on the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy. My phone is lit up with congratulations and all filtered through that are people looking for jobs. That means the world to me, that this many people are looking for information on how to be part of 23XI’s future. A lot of work to be done with this year currently and then building towards next year at the same time.
This is that opportunity to build a team from the ground up and to race in NASCAR for a legend in all of sports. To have an owner and driver in Denny and the respect that I have for him and how much he is pushing into this program is just awesome. And then there is that final block to win for another manufacturer and to leave something behind. Hopefully, this will be a place where I can just walk in on a random Wednesday 10 years from now and sit down at a desk and go, “Hey, how are things going guys? Can I help with anything?” That’s a good phrase you just used. It’s like this was all meant to be.