In the days following Tyler Reddick’s announcement in early July that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing after next season, Austin Dillon thought about the company’s future.
It didn’t take Dillon long to think about the best free agent on the market: Kyle Busch.
“I mentioned it to Torrey [Galida, RCR president] that day and he said, ‘You should talk to your grandfather about it,’” Dillon said on Tuesday morning when Busch’s signing with the organization was made official.
“I talked to him about it, and he was open to it. I think he was more like, ‘Yeah, do you think he’d want to come?’ because of the past. I was like, Kyle’s a man, just like you are. Forgive and forget and move on.”
The past would be the 2011 incident at Kansas Speedway when Childress punched Busch in the garage after a Camping World Truck Series race. It’s become known as the “hold my watch” incident as Childress said those words and took off his watch before his physical altercation with Busch. Something Childress played up Tuesday by giving Busch a watch in what he said was Busch’s signing bonus.
But that moment aside, Dillon did reach out to Busch to see what the two-time series champion thought. Dillon sent a text message about getting on the phone for a “good conversation,” as described by Dillon.
“He was kind of in the same boat of, ‘RC wants me?’” said Dillon. “I was like, ‘Yeah, man, why wouldn’t he?’ Two-time champion. Great winner in this sport. I just told him we wanted him and that’s where it started.
“After that, it was more about getting Torrey and Mike [Dillon] hooked up and Kyle having a meeting with RC, and that’s the direction we were able to push this whole thing. I’m super excited to have a two-time champion at RCR.”
Busch and Childress met for the first time at the Childress Vineyards. Beginning next season in a multiyear deal, Busch will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet that Randall Burnett will crew chief.
“There were a couple of other candidates, but Kyle was the guy,” said Dillon. “I was excited about it and had to keep it down. When it all came together, today is special. To be a part of it, to help that conversation get going.
“I flew back from Kansas with Kyle and talking to him, he’s like, ‘What do you want me to say in my speech? Do you want me to mention you?’ I was like, ‘Do what you to do.’ I was happy for RCR and Welcome. If I can have a little piece to bring a guy like him to RCR to keep us on the trajectory that we’re going, it’s special.”
In choosing Childress, Busch said he wanted to land somewhere where he could win immediately and also hit reset. Deciding on a new team was a process that Busch found to take longer than he wanted it to, but it was one of the most important of his life.
“I was kind of surprised, honestly,” Busch said of being contacted by Dillon. “Richard and I, we had spoken in years past just in passing, but when Austin reached out, I was like, OK, we probably need to sit down and discuss something first. It was fine. It was easy. It wasn’t that big of a deal when we did.
“Just to feel wanted and to feel that they know who I am, what I am. The accolades speak for [themselves] and that I can go over there and I can help continue that build to the top, and what I feel like they’re already on a good path of.”
Busch has 60 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series and two championships, whereas the Childress organization has not won a championship since 1994 with Dale Earnhardt. Dillon, who will go into his 10th full season with Busch as a teammate in ’23, has four career wins.
“I’ve never worked with a two-time Cup champion as far as experience and winning,” Dillon said of his new teammate. “He’s the winningest driver that I’m going to get the shot to work with.
“When I first came to RCR, I thought I was going to have a shot to work with Kevin Harvick and he moved on, and now it’s like the first time I’ll have that figure around me. And I think we both can bring something to each other.
“I want Kyle to have fun at RCR. I want Kyle to be himself because that’s what makes Kyle good. Hopefully, together we both can maximize each others potential.”