For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kurt Busch will drive a Toyota. On Friday, 23XI Racing announced Busch will join the team in a new #45 Toyota Camry for the 2022 Cup season, where he will partner with Bubba Wallace‘s #23. Monster Energy, who has supported Busch since 2015, will follow him to his new home. Details such as additional sponsors and a charter were not immediately revealed.
Busch moves to 23XI after spending the last three years with Chip Ganassi Racing, for whom he has three wins and playoff berths in each season. He currently sits fourteenth in points entering the regular season finale with a victory at Atlanta in June. He was courted by 23XI throughout the season, and his departure from CGR was confirmed when the team was sold to Trackhouse Racing who signed his team-mate Ross Chastain. Incidentally, Trackhouse and 23XI are both new teams for 2021 who began as one-car operations before expanding to two for their sophomore campaigns.
While Busch has never piloted a Camry at the Cup level, he drove one for his younger brother Kyle Busch in the now-Xfinity Series in 2012. Running ten races that year with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he won once at Richmond. With the move, he will have raced for all three current NASCAR manufacturers and Dodge, who departed the sport after 2012.
“I cannot begin to express my gratitude for this opportunity,” Busch stated in a team release. “Racing to win is what I live for. Helping to continue developing a new team, alongside Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin, and Toyota is exactly what I want to be part of. Winning is important to 23XI, it’s important to Monster Energy, and it’s important to me. That is our goal.”
23XI is in its first season of competition with Wallace, who is twenty-first in the standings. It will be his first time having a Cup team-mate after spending his entire premier series career with single-car programmes.
“When we started this team, our vision was to grow to a multi-car organisation,” commented Hamlin. “To be able to expand in just our second year is a huge step for us. Kurt brings a wealth of knowledge and a championship mindset to our team, and will be able to help us grow stronger and more competitive each and every week.”
Both Wallace’s #23 and Busch’s #45 were worn by team co-owner Jordan during his legendary basketball career, with the former being used for much of his playing days while the latter was his when he returned from retirement. While the “XI” in the team name represents 11 for Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing is obviously not going to surrender its longtime number even to an ally.
#45 was last used by Kyle Petty in 2008 as a tribute to his son Adam, who raced with the number until his death in a practice crash in 2000. The number was unofficially retired as Petty held the rights in his son’s honour.
“The number 45 is a special number to myself and the entire Petty family,” said Petty. “We look forward to seeing that number back on the race track contending for race wins and championships. Seeing the number compete again, under the 23X1 Racing banner, with Kurt behind the wheel, is exciting for us.
“While the number will always hold many memories of Adam, we know Kurt, Denny and the entire organisation will represent it well. Victory Junction—a place of empowerment and inclusion for kids with chronic and serious medical illnesses envisioned by Adam—are proud to see the 45 car return and where this team will take it on the track.”
As an aside, 23XI’s promotional video to hype Busch’s signing noticeably featured the #45 car’s number moved closer to the front wheel. NASCAR has toyed with the door number placement in recent times, including moving it backwards for the 2020 All-Star Race, to polarising reception. NASCAR subsequently confirmed the number location in the video will be the case for 2022 and beyond as the Cup Series completes the transition to the Next Gen car.