Busch brothers team up for Nationwide
20 January 2012
Kyle Busch has announced the identity of the driver who will take the wheel of the #54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Nationwide Series car in 2012 when the owner-driver himself isn't competing: and he stunned the NASCAR paddock by confirming that he'd signed his brother, Kurt Busch.
"I'm his boss - that is what I am," laughed Kyle, who at 26 is seven years his brother's junior. The last time the two raced together was 13 years ago for their father Tom in Legends cars in their native city of Las Vegas.
The brothers have also picked up big-name sponsor Monster Energy to back the venture in a full-season, multi-year deal.
The exact division of which Busch will drive which Nationwide race is yet to be decided, with Kyle planning to run 13-15 races and Kurt then taking the wheel for the remainder of the 33-race season.
"I probably wouldn't have gotten Kurt if I'd only offered him ten races," Kyle said of his thinking behind the decision to run a minority of the events during the season. "He probably would have said, 'that's not worth my time,' [so] I gave him something worthwhile."
"He'll probably want some of the easier portion of the schedule because he's the owner!" joked Kurt. "But between the two of us, we're racing all 33 Nationwide races on the schedule ... We'll see who the best Busch brother is gonna be as far as who gets to Victory Lane more!"
Kyle will likely start the first five races, as he is guaranteed entry to the race thanks to being a past Nationwide series champion. Kurt will take the road course outings (he won last year's Nationwide race at Watkins Glen as a late substitute for the injured Brad Keselowski) and will likely run the majority of races toward the end of the season when Kyle is expected to be involved in the Chase for the Sprint Cup play-offs.
The announcement of the Busch reunification came as a something of a major surprise, as NASCAR lore has it that the two brothers don't get along. That stems from the 2007 All-Star race that saw them wreck each other while racing for $1m, after which they didn't talk for months until their grandmother intervened at the Thanksgiving Day family gathering.
"The only thing that we had run in our way was dollar signs at the All-Star race that year," insisted Kurt. "Anytime somebody is going for a million bucks, you forget who your brother is," he admitted, adding: "I think we've always gotten along really well on track, to draft with each other, to yield to each other, it just hasn't been well documented."
Kyle insisted that their reluctance to team up in NASCAR over the years hadn't been down to personal animosity, but more to do with his own personal desire to establish himself in the sport in his own right.
"I was always known as Kurt's younger brother," explained Kyle. "We kind of stayed separate early on in our tenure of Cup racing just because I've tried to come out with another identity.
"Since I've developed that and to be able to branch my own brand, it makes sense for us now to become brothers again, if you will," added Kyle. "Be able to go out there and race together, have fun, put him in my race cars and hopefully have him go out there and reach some success."
"It should just say 'Busch Brothers' on the roof of the car," added Kurt. "This gives us a chance to buddy up on something that's more than just driving ... We'll have a lot of fun this year."
"Fun" seems to be the key word for Kurt in 2012, who says that after a turbulent and unhappy season last year, his aim now with his new Cup team, James Finch's Phoenix Racing, is "just going to the track ... getting back to old-school racing, having fun with it, the pressure is not there."
"The first day when I was at [Phoenix], Finch was there, we all looked at each other like we were done talking, it was quarter to four," he recalled. "I said, 'where's your beer cooler around here?' We went and cracked open a couple beers and started chitchatting the rest of the day about fun stories. That's what this is going to be about for me in 2012."
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the arrangement with Kyle is that the potentially combustible combination of siblings has managed to attract an entire season of high-profile, big-money sponsorship. Only last week, racing legend Richard Petty suggested that he'd passed on signing up Kurt for the vacant seat in the Richard Petty Motorports #43 car (since taken by Aric Almirola) because sponsors were too nervous to be associated with the elder Busch any more. That follows his fiery outbursts in 2011 that culminated up with the 'mutual agreement' to terminate his contract with Penske Racing after the season concluded.
But the #54 car has indeed secured a multi-year agreement for full-season backing from sports drink brand Monster Energy, and will carry the company's distinctive green-on-black 'claw slash' logo that is already a familiar brand around the MotoGP paddock. Monster had previously been a sponsor for Ricky Carmichael in NASCAR, and Carmichael had been a possible contender for the #54 drive until Kyle went to Monster and suggested hiring Kurt for the job instead, an idea that the company immediately jumped at.
"When his opportunity came about, we collaborated on what we could do together and took it to Monster and they were like 'Hell, yeah, let's do this. Sign him on,"' said Kyle. "Everybody seemed like a perfect fit. Both of us seem to have that personable, edgy attitude, we just want to win, and that's what Monster is all about."
"It's just about getting to victory lane, that's what they want to see," added Kurt. "We're always out there going for the trophy, and sometimes we let that rough edge drag. It's just like [their logo] with the jagged edge. That's us."
"Monster Energy has always stood for competing and winning no matter what the sport," agreed the president of Monster Energy, Mark Hall. "To make this happen, we've always sought out the most determined, fearless and committed athletes for the Monster team. With the Busch brothers sharing the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports Monster Energy Camry, we have every reason to believe we have drivers capable of running up front every weekend." Monster is also likely to provide associate sponsorship for Kyle's #18 Cup car.
Kyle was asked how well the two volatile brothers could possibly get on in an owner/driver relationship, with Kurt having become known in 2011 for his tirades over the team radio directed at his previous car owner Roger Penske.
"It depends on how much of a respect level he has for me," responded Kyle. "I've got the utmost respect for Kurt and that's why I offered him this opportunity and that it came together." Tongue-in-cheek, he added: "I also think that I weigh 180 pounds, he weighs 145 pounds so I think I've got a little bit on him!"
"Kyle has done an impressive job in building this race team and I'm proud to be part of it," insisted Kurt in reply. "It's a key deal for both of us. He's a champion, I'm a champion. He's the most winningest driver in Nationwide. That says it all about Kyle and how he drives and his intensity behind the wheel always shines through. I have the same fire in the belly."
Kyle added that the Nationwide drives in the #54 will be his only non-Cup outings in 2012, and that he won't be running any races for his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team operation this year, following strong advice from his Cup team owner Joe Gibbs. Instead, Kyle has signed Jason Leffler to drive his team's truck in 14 races so far confirmed this season; a possible deal to field a second truck for NASCAR Mexico champion German Quiroga now looks unlikely, Kyle added.
Kyle will also no longer be driving the Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide car in 2012, having been stood down from the car toward the end of last year following Kyle's own brush with controversy when he was suspended from a weekend of NASCAR racing after intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Truck race at Texas. The decision now leaves him free to concentrate instead on his Cup duties and on Kyle Busch Motorsport's maiden year in NASCAR's second-tier championship.
"Joe is not necessarily a fan of us, but he's open to it," said Kyle when asked how his Cup team owner felt about his driver going into competition with JGR in Nationwide. "He understands, too, this is Kyle Busch Motorsports, and there's a family of people that work here that need to have an income, and we put food on the table for a lot of people.
"We want to see this place be around for a long time," added Kyle of the KBM business he started two years ago. "It's a beautiful facility and near and dear to my heart. I didn't inherit this. This is something I've been building."
Kurt has already announced a "limited number" of Nationwide races with Phoenix that include the restrictor-plate events at Daytona and Talladega, and any more will presumably now have to fit around his drives in the KBM #54. With Phoenix being a Chevy-powered team and KBM being in the Toyota stable, Kurt has had to obtain special permission to cross manufacturer lines to run both engines in the same season.
"I just have to respect who each are with the Toyota brand and their information and the Chevrolet people as well," agreed Kurt. "We need to understand that line of information, and I'm here to respect that. This is one of the first times you'll see a driver bouncing between manufacturers."
KBM has hired proven industry veteran Mike Beam to lead the team for the Busch brothers, fresh from winning the 2011 Nationwide owners' championship with Carl Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards previously announced he was pulling out of Nationwide racing in 2012, leaving Beam at a loose end at RFR until the offer from Busch arrived.
Both drivers will remain registered for the Cup championship, meaning that they will not be eligible for driver points in Nationwide. But they will be working toward winning owner points for the #54 and aiming to win the team championship in KBM's maiden year in the series, just as the organisation did in its first year of Truck Series competition in 2010.
"I don't want to take away any attention that a guy like Austin Dillon might receive from this year, running for the points title," insisted Kurt. "Or Danica [Patrick]. It's for those guys coming up; it's not for the Cup guys."
However the return to the track of the Busch Brothers after more than a decade in separate ventures should do wonders for viewing figures for the series.