Is the announcement of Bubba Wallace competing for the NASCAR Cup Series owner championship in the #45 Toyota a bad sign for Kurt Busch?
23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch hasn’t competed in a NASCAR Cup Series race in a month and a half, as he was left with concussion-like symptoms after a qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway.
Ty Gibbs, who competes full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, has replaced him behind the wheel of the #45 Toyota in the six races that have been contested since then.
While Busch made the decision to withdraw his name from the playoffs, the #45 team still qualified for the owner playoffs. Busch won the race at Kansas Speedway back in mid-May, and the regular season did not see more than 16 winners.
So while the playoff spot that would have been occupied by Busch ultimately went to Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, who joins the other 15 winners as the highest finishing non-winner in the regular season standings, it is the #45 team, not Blaney’s #12 team, still in contention for the owner championship.
And the owner championship is where the money is for race teams.
There is still no word on when Busch might return, if at all, this season. But 23XI Racing’s Wednesday announcement has left fans thinking it might not be anytime soon.
Bubba Wallace, the full-time driver of the #23 Toyota, is set to move to the #45 Toyota for the playoffs. This is a purely strategic move by the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned team.
Wallace isn’t in playoff contention himself, as he finished the regular season in 20th place in the point standings without a victory, and neither is the #23 team, which sits in 21st in the owner standings. Neither Wallace nor the #23 team can finish higher than 17th in their respective championships.
But the #45 team is still technically in the running for the owner championship, so it made sense to put a much more experienced Wallace behind the wheel of the #45 Toyota, as opposed to Gibbs, for the postseason.
Gibbs, who is not eligible to score points in the Cup Series, is instead set to pilot the #23 Toyota whenever he competes.
Does this indicate that Busch isn’t close to getting back behind the wheel?
On one hand, it wouldn’t make sense for Wallace to switch cars for a race or two, so it doesn’t seem very likely that Busch will be back anytime soon.
But on the other hand, with the #45 team still in championship contention, every race helps, especially since the playoff rounds consist of only three races. The same can be said for getting Wallace “playoff experience”, even if not for his own reasons. Plus, Hamlin has said that if Busch does return, he would simply shift to the #23 Toyota.
So it’s still hard to tell, and it’s even harder to speculate on an individual’s status when it comes to a brain injury.
Start a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss the playoff opener! The Cook Out Southern 500 is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from Darlington Raceway beginning at 6:00 pm ET this Sunday, September 4.