Toyota’s David Wilson had no Kyle Busch contract update for the media at Daytona International Speedway, but the manufacturer remains committed to trying to keep Busch in the fold.
“We are still in the mix, we are still working with Kyle, and our intent is still the same,” said Wilson, the president of Toyota Racing Development. “Kyle Busch is our 60-home-run hitter, and we’d be foolish not to put everything in play to keep him in the family, and that’s what we continue to do.”
With primary sponsor Mars leaving at the end of 2022, the difficulty in finding a new partner for Busch has a few branches. Among those are the sponsor dollar amount wanted by the race team and Busch’s reputation.
“We say every week: It’s not good enough in this sport at the highest level to be the best driver,” Wilson continued. “Kyle Busch is in the conversation for the greatest of all time. Again, he’s our 60-home-run hitter, and he’s in the process of breaking every record the sport has ever seen. That’s not good enough in this sport. You need corporate America; you need sponsorship to drive the ship, and whether that’s a good thing or not…that’s not for me to say, but that’s a fact.
“It has been a challenging environment. Some of that is just organic to the current economy and the inflation, recession, whatever you want to call it. Some of that is absolutely, again, the polarizing nature of some drivers, and they don’t fit every sponsor.”
Wilson acknowledged that Toyota, as a manufacturer, has a role in Busch’s contract negotiations. However, Wilson made clear Toyota does not own drivers or teams and respects their place in the garage.
“So within the reasonable bounds of a manufacturer in the sport, we are doing what we can to try and keep Kyle in our family,” said Wilson. “This is not just an offensive consideration – I don’t want to race against [an angry] Kyle Busch. And wherever he lands, he’s going to do some damage. But as I’ve said before, it’s been a lot of heavy lifting and that hasn’t changed.”
Toyota is not going to cut a check to cover Busch’s salary. While the manufacturer is one of the most involved with its support of race teams and developing drivers through Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, it is not their responsibility to pay for a driver — not even one of Busch’s caliber.
“I see [those comments] all the time, and this comes back to my comment [about how] we have a role to play in this sport,” Wilson said. “From the time we came in here and started racing here…in 2007 in the Cup Series, we have respected this sport, and we’ve respected the position and the responsibility that we have in the sport, and it is not a responsibility wherein we are puppeteers and again, own drivers or racing teams.
“Race teams — Joe Gibbs Racing — has a contract with the drivers. We do have relationships with every one of our drivers — it’s called a personal services agreement — and that is because they are all ambassadors for us. But it is not our role as a manufacturer to backstop. That’s just not what we do. It’s not what we do.”
Busch’s tone has gone from deflecting questions to Joe Gibbs while saying he wants to stay with his team, to acknowledging he’s talking to other organizations, and then saying last month that he’ll take concessions on his next deal. The situation frequently changes as it drags on, and Wilson admitted it’s very dynamic.
“Each week, each couple of days brings a new twist, a potential new opportunity and we run these down to the ground,” he said. “Hopefully one of these irons will catch, and hopefully one of these opportunities will manifest themselves. I have no doubt that Kyle Busch will be driving a Cup car in the sport next year. The question is where and for whom?”
Wilson said there is no set date on when something needs to be finalized with Busch.
“I think that will kind of self-determine, ultimately, because wherever Kyle ends up, with whomever Kyle ends up, that entity will need the time to cement that,” he said. “So, I think it’s going to happen organically. I can’t see going deep into the playoffs.”
In the end, said Wilson, “I just want to see Kyle in a good place. I hope it’s with Toyota, but what’s most important is he lands on his feet and he and his family are in a good place.”