LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Kyle Busch pulled a yellow M&M’s polo over another shirt before he walked onto the stage to celebrate o ne more victory as a team owner in the NASCAR Truck Series.
He’s antsy for a fashion makeover -- in the form of new sponsor merchandise -- for 2023.
Busch is down to his final months wearing the M&M’s gear until the shirt gets tossed aside like an old Snickers wrapper. The wait for a new deal with Joe Gibbs Racing dragged on into Pocono Raceway with the two-time Cup champion seemingly no closer to a contract resolution.
M&M Mars, which has sponsored Busch since he joined the Gibbs organization in 2008, is out of NASCAR at the end of the season. Much like a bite into some crispy M&M’s, Busch, JGR and Toyota are feeling the crunch.
“We’re all working as hard as we can, obviously, and the goal hasn’t changed,” Busch said Saturday. “And that goal is for me to be able to continue at Joe Gibbs Racing with Toyota and to have that chance to continue to race for wins and race for championships.”
Thanks to signage around the track, Busch couldn’t ignore what he was losing at the end of the season. Yes, his No. 18 Toyota boasts the familiar candy paint scheme, but Sunday’s Cup race is titled the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 and its logo took over the flagstand. Mars Wrigley’s offices and its plant in Hackettstown, New Jersey, are less than an hour’s drive east of Pocono Raceway
Busch also has to worry about the future of KBM, a wildly successful Truck Series program run out of a 77,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina.
“That weighs on me a lot. We’ve got 50-something employees,” at KBM, Busch said. “It’s important for me to continue to keep all of them in mind and all their families and stuff to make sure we get something done that keeps all of that going. It’s a topic point of mine to keep that as much as we can and to keep that place flourishing.”
Gibbs made contract talks sound grim last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, saying “I’m surprised at this point that we haven’t been able to get that finished.” Toyota’s optimism also has fizzled. TRD President David Wilson told NBC Sports this week, “We’re in a bad place right now” and unspecified contingency plans had been considered.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said he didn’t necessarily find it troubling that so late in the season one of the great drivers in the sport can’t land the sponsorship that infuses teams with the big payday largely needed to operate.
“We obviously want Kyle in the race car,” he said. “We want Kyle to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing to the degree that Kyle and coach and the organization can figure that out. He’s a tremendous talent, obviously first-ballot Hall of Famer. We want Kyle around for another decade or however long he wants to race in NASCAR.”
The 37-year-old Busch has 222 wins across NASCAR’s three national series and is the only active Cup driver with multiple championships. Busch has just one win this season, which earned him a playoff spot secured headed into Pocono.
“The best thing right now is to go out there and show everybody that you can still do it, that you can still win, that you can still be competitive,” Busch said.
Meanwhile, big brother Kurt, the 2004 Cup champion, continues to drop hints that next season at 23XI Racing will be his last in NASCAR. Kurt Busch, though, said Saturday “there’s no real game plan just yet” on when he planned to retire.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports