Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Does JGR Regret Letting Kyle Busch Walk in Free Agency?

Does Joe Gibbs Racing regret letting Kyle Busch walk in free agency?

Steve Leffew: JGR replaced a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest wheelmen of all time with the team owner’s grandson. Right now, it would be crazy to say it didn’t wish it still had Kyle Busch on their team. He’s won three races driving for a team that is unanimously considered inferior to JGR. The final judgment on the move will take years to play out. Ty Gibbs came into the NASCAR Xfinity Series from the ARCA Menards Series and lit the racing world on fire. But the competitive jump to the NASCAR Cup Series is bigger than the leap from ARCA to Xfinity. Gibbs not only brought nepotism, he also shouldered sponsorship with Monster Energy, and that can’t be ignored.

I’m sure Joe Gibbs wishes his team had three wins, but when looking at driver salaries and sponsorship dollars, the numbers support his decision. Ty Gibbs has been showing progression and seems to spend more time in the top 10 each week. He still has the potential to be a multi-championship driver who can keep JGR going for another generation. With other drivers and sponsorships in question, JGR will need to survive long enough for him to have a shot at realizing that potential.

Andrew Stoddard: Busch has three wins so far in 2023, while the entire JGR group only has three. That stat sums it up perfectly. Busch is making JGR look silly for cutting him loose. Richard Childress Racing was on an upward trend for the past couple seasons, evident from Tyler Reddick’s three wins in the No. 8 last year. A top-tier driver like Busch was the final ingredient RCR needed to become a championship contender. RCR has made the Championship 4 only once in the playoff era with Ryan Newman in 2014. Do not be surprised if Busch and the No. 8 are vying for the Cup title at Phoenix Raceway

Mike Neff: In case you weren’t paying attention, Reddick won three races in the same cars last year. There is no doubt Busch has a more impressive resume than Reddick, though. Having his talent in the cars is lifting the whole organization just as a rising tide lifts all boats. JGR cars are still very competitive, so it isn’t missing Busch much.

Wyatt Watson: Gibbs has to be missing Busch right now. Going from a two-time champion to his young, not nearly as experienced grandson at the wheel was going to be a costly move in the short term, but Busch has made it much harder for Gibbs to swallow losing him after firing off three impressive wins this season. If Gibbs had the foresight, Busch retires with JGR.

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World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway’s length is unique on the NASCAR circuit at 1.25 miles. What is your ideal size for a NASCAR oval to provide the best quality racing?

Neff: Ideally, a track that is 5/8 to 7/8 of a mile is the perfect size for great racing that showcases driver talent. Horsepower isn’t a big deal and driver skill is showcased.

Leffew: The ideal size is 1.366 miles, preferably egg-shaped with sharply progressive banking. Darlington Raceway is my favorite track on the circuit, but part of its appeal is how unique it is. I can’t imagine a developer trying to build another Darlington. With today’s package, the 1.5-mile tracks, sans Atlanta Motor Speedway, are producing the best racing. This brings up the biggest issue NASCAR currently faces, short track racing. The Cup Series needs to find a way to improve short track racing as soon as possible. Many fans throughout the world would answer this question by saying under 1 mile. But today, those tracks don’t produce a good show.

Watson: 1.5 miles is the most ideal track length in NASCAR. In fact, that’s the length of track on which NASCAR should hold its championship race. (Except Texas Motor Speedway; anything but that!)

Stoddard: The ideal distance for an oval is right around 1.33 miles. That length would allow for the spread-out, multi-groove racing of mile-and-a-half tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the speeds would be down enough to blend in short track elements like the bump-and-run. There is one current Cup track that is very close to this distance: Darlington. The general consensus is that Darlington produces some of the best racing on the Cup calendar. There are many other variables that go into quality racing, like the track surface, banking, the car and driver talent, but as far as track length is concerned, 1.33 miles sounds about right.

Where will Carson Hocevar drive in 2024?

Stoddard: Carson Hocevar will make the leap to the Xfinity Series to race in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet in 2024, most likely the No. 8. First, there are rumblings that Josh Berry is the heir apparent to Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in the Cup Series next season. Also, Hocevar turned heads in his Cup debut last week. Before winding up dead last with a brake failure, he moved up steadily from his 26th starting spot and spent several laps in the top 20 driving a lower-level Spire Motorsports Chevy. This performance drew the attention of one prominent member of the Xfinity Series garage: Dale Earnhardt Jr., who praised Hocevar on social media shortly after he exited the race. All of these factors put together seem to point to Hocevar joining JRM in 2024.

Leffew: Hocevar’s stock is peaking after his brief run for Spire at Gateway. He may have actually benefited from the mechanical failure, because the perception is that the arrow was pointing upward before something happened that was out of his control. Hocevar is an ideal candidate for a top-tier Xfinity ride next season to further prove his run was not a fluke. I expect Chevrolet will find a way to get him into a JRM car next season, where he will compete for an Xfinity championship. If that doesn’t happen, the next most likely path would be for either Hendrick Motorsports or Spire to open up a full-time Xfinity team with Hocevar driving.

Watson: Hocevar is performing very well so far in everything he competes in. The two top-10 finishes for Spire’s new Xfinity team by Hocevar has me believing that Spire will double down on Hocevar and give him a full-time ride next year. I would love to see Hocevar get an opportunity with JRM in the No. 8 car. I thought he could’ve taken over the No. 9 this year. Hocevar would make a lot of noise and capture multiple wins if he signs with the team for next year.

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Will any of the on-track Xfinity driver spats from Portland International Speedway carry over to Sonoma Raceway?

Watson: Certainly the Jeb Burton vs. Chandler Smith situation should be closely watched this week, but I’m going to remind some people about what happened back at Circuit of the Americas. Remember when AJ Allmendinger and Sheldon Creed got together fighting for the lead? Creed is down on that score, and Allmendinger is back racing in the No. 10 entry for Kaulig Racing this week. I’m watching the Nos. 2 and 10 very closely this week with a bag of popcorn close by.

Stoddard: The Xfinity Series is going to another road course with significant braking zones and multiple opportunities to dump a competitor that a driver may have been beefing with in recent weeks. Not only that, but it is also a road course in Sonoma to which the Xfinity Series has never been. Fans can expect a fair number of fireworks in the Xfinity Series’ first trip to Wine Country this weekend.

Leffew: John Hunter Nemechek and Creed say they are even and bumped knuckles to declare a truce, but it will only take one minor wrongdoing for that tinderbox to ignite again. The unsolved conflict is between Smith and Burton. Burton drove for Kaulig in 2021 and had the best season of his career. Now his former team’s new hotshot driver has tangled with him several times, leading to the Portland altercation. I don’t see either Burton or Smith giving the other an inch, and any perceived wrongs are likely to boil over. Burton claims he has respect for his former teammates at Kaulig and doesn’t want to wreck their cars, so his fury could come through in another post-race incident. Smith, however, could be more likely to take out his frustration on the track.

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

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Gibbs was going to make a place for Babyface, plus make a big payroll cut in the bargain. It was either going to be either Busch, or Truex. That was pretty easy to see coming.

My biggest question would be, why after the best season he’d ever had. Was Reddick in such a hurry to bail on RCR, that he made the deal with a year left on his contract, to create the vacancy, for Busch. When the move was at best a lateral move, & maybe a step down.

Childress was talking about fielding a third car for him to finish out his contract. But I seriously doubt he was ever serious.

This whole deal seems beyond strange to me.

WJW Motorsports

Going out on a limb here I’d say the reason was money. He’s probably getting equity in his new deal, whereas that would not be available from RCR. And he’s done it before – why jump to another competing team in the same series right after you win the championship with another?


JGR didn’t really have a choice. With M&M’s gone and Monster wanting little Gibbs in Cup, what else could they do. Hamblin was tied to FedEx, Bass Pro/Tracker Boats appear loyal to Truex, and Bell brings Rheem with him.

I think it’s pretty obvious that RCR’s problems haven’t been so much the quality of cars, but the quality of drivers he’s chosen, Austin Dillon, Hemric, Menard, and Newman at the end of his career. Reddick proved this the last couple years and Busch is now just confirming it.

Kurt Smith

I never gave that much thought, but you have a pretty good point.


Agree, good one.

WJW Motorsports

Ty’s the future owner of the company, whereas Kyle was hired help. Kyle certainly has some present left in him, but Ty is the future. Transitions are painful but seems like the timing was right considering (as always) the money issues.

Kurt Smith

NASCAR should remove the four car per team limit, which is part of why Kyle was forced out at JGR. It exists because Roush Racing put all five of his cars in the Chase in 2005, and Junior Nation complained constantly that Roush had an advantage with more cars.

NASCAR limited the number of teams to four, which as we can see has really made a difference in the number of competitive cars on the track, and it’s been a great help to guys like Corey LaJoie.

What, exactly, is the point of having that rule? I’d rather see more Hendrick, Gibbs, and Penske cars on the track than see a larger number of backmarkers.

All of that said, I think there’s more to this underneath. Remember that Hendrick tossed an already phenomenal talent like Kyle Busch aside when they still had midpack-on-his-best-day Casey Mears. Maybe teams just tire of Kyle. I love watching the guy race, he might be the greatest ever, but it’s amazing to me that two of the smartest owners in the sport didn’t keep him around.

Last edited 11 months ago by Kurt Smith

On one hand I see the point about more Hendrick/Penske/Gibbs cars, but on the other hand I’d prefer a two car limit to allow for more teams. But then, to make it work right that would also require the rest of my utopian dream of scaling back rules/regulations and letting teams do more to build and innovate their own cars to keep the series interesting.

As for Kyle, I think the move was and still is right for both Busch and Gibbs. The chemistry was gone and had he stayed they would most likely be floundering again this season.

Kevin in SoCal

The 4 car rule is to keep teams from having monopolies and getting too much power over NASCAR. The technical alliances are pretty much the same as having one team owning more than 4 cars, already.
Busch seems to thrive on new surroundings. And we all know his temperament, maybe Hendrick and Gibbs got tired of him, too?

Kurt Smith

But it’s silly especially when you have teams using equipment from the Hendrick and Gibbs garages. Makes it kind of pointless.

Bill B

Assuming that sponsorship is secure for all (a big if now days), the easiest way for an owner to lower the cost per team, is to have more teams. There are economies of scale to be had in personnel, fixed costs and capital expenditures.
I don’t necessarily like the thought of no limit on team ownership, but if you want to talk about lowering costs you can’t dismiss having more teams under one roof. Just saying,,,,

Kurt Smith

Another point. NASCAR is constantly pushing for parity to the point where everyone must drive the same car and get parts from the same supplier. But multi-car teams were actually bringing parity to the sport. With single car teams very often drivers would win races by a lap or more. Multi-car teams did away with that.

If Hendrick and Gibbs were allowed to field another couple of cars, that would be 3-4 more competitive cars on the racetrack, and capable drivers wouldn’t have to sign with second tier teams.


It was a business decision. It was based on more profit available with Baby Busch off the payroll.

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