It’s a new car, a new team and a new manufacturer for Kurt Busch. Again. The journeyman driver and 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion has a new ride this season and new a set of expectations as he settles into 23XI Racing’s new No. 45. The Toyota Camry TRD he’ll be driving represents the next step in the vision for the upstart team laid out by co-founders Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin as the group expands to two cars after its rookie season as a single-car outfit with Bubba Wallace.
Why hire Busch? Well, it turns out 21-plus years of Cup experience, eight consecutive winning seasons and the solid sponsorship backing of Monster Energy make Kurt an attractive commodity for a team that’s trying to accelerate its competitive plans.
“I think first things first, I was hired as a driver, and duties are to drive the No. 45 car with the best knowledge, smarts and swagger than I can to be consistent and find things that a veteran is supposed to find within a new car,” Busch said in the offseason during a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “And at the same time, there’s young engineers and young crew members that are eager to learn all the knowledge that I have in certain areas and just kind of transfer it off to certain guys. And then, with Bubba, we want him to jump into the program with a mindset to win and to be there at another level next year.”
Busch, 43, is in the twilight of his NASCAR career. The 2017 Daytona 500 winner has discussed retirement options in recent years, but new and extended opportunities have kept him going. However, few have carried the same challenge as the one ahead of him, with the burden so squarely on his shoulders to raise the team’s profile, capability and results. Wallace scored the team’s first win last season, sure, but 23XI is a team looking for multiple wins, postseason appearances and, eventually, championships.
“As we continue to grow and move into our second year, it is important for us to continue building our competition team and hiring the right people to take us to the next level,” says 23XI Racing President Steve Lauletta. “With Kurt coming on board to join Bubba, new partners joining us, and now hiring some of the best in the business, all of the pieces are falling into place, and it makes all of us excited to get to the track and continue building on our first year.”
One of those pieces for Busch was reunification with a former crew chief. Billy Scott, whom Busch worked with back in 2018 at Stewart-Haas Racing, was hired by 23XI Racing in the offseason to work for the No. 45 Toyota. While the duo was at SHR in 2018, Busch won at Bristol Motor Speedway and netted 22 top-10 finishes. The pairing ended when Busch left SHR for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019.
“The chemistry Billy and I had together a few years back at SHR was strong,” Busch said in a team news release. “We raced smart and built solid consistency with each other. That showed with the results and the fun the team had together. Winning races is what it’s all about, and our past experiences will help build the future at 23XI.”
Scott’s arrival comes in addition to numerous other hires at 23XI as the team expands. Chip Ganassi Racing’s David Bryant will serve as the No. 45 car chief. Dave Rogers, former Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief, will be the 23XI performance director.
Busch became a free agent for 2022 officially when Chip Ganassi Racing was sold to Trackhouse Racing Team. Now, he’s set to drive a Toyota for the first time in his career — meaning Busch will now have driven for each manufacturer available in his Cup career, including Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota.