Kyle Busch’s 2023 move to Richard Childress Racing already helping team

AP photo by Matt Kelley / Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch smiles before Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Busch, a two-time Cup Series champion, will move to Richard Childress Racing next season.

CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch's impending move to Richard Childress Racing has provided an immediate boost to the storied NASCAR team and put the two-time Cup Series champion in the center of talks for an Indianapolis 500 ride.

Childress said before Sunday's Cup series playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway that fans have been visiting both the race shop in Welcome and the Childress Vineyards winery in numbers "not seen since the Earnhardt days." The late Dale Earnhardt won six of his record-tying seven championships driving for RCR, and the organization has not won a title since Earnhardt's final one in 1994.

The car owner said his employees are energized and eager to add Busch — NASCAR's wins leader among Toyota drivers — to the organization, a Chevrolet shop.

Meanwhile, Childress has given Busch permission to pursue a seat in the Indy 500, an endeavor he was not permitted to do in his 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Finding a Chevrolet team that can field Busch has not been so easy, though.

Home improvement retailer Menards has a budget set aside and the desire to sponsor Busch, and company founder John Menard even approached Team Penske, the team he won the 2019 Indy 500 as Simon Pagenaud drove. Team Penske president Tim Cindric said before Sunday's race that the organization has already decided it won't field a fourth entry in next year's 500.

"Quite honestly, you know the last couple years we haven't been our best at Indy, and we don't want to dilute or distract from the three we already have," Cindric said. "We'd only do a fourth car if it can win and not hurt the program. If you just want to do Indy as an adventure, that's not with us."

Arrow McLaren SP has its own difficulties in committing to a fourth car as the organization is already expanding to three teams next season. An additional Indy entry could stretch McLaren quite thin, but there's another holdup: Menard wants his neon yellow colors on any car he sponsors, and McLaren runs a uniform lineup of papaya orange cars.

Chevrolet, meanwhile, is very open to supplying an engine for Busch, 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson or even seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who raced in the Indy 500 this year for the first time. All three drivers have expressed interest in running both the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 next year to complete the Memorial Day weekend double.

Larson, who was eliminated from title contention Sunday at Charlotte, said he has received permission from Hendrick Motorsports leaders Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon to pursue a seat.

"Nothing's changed. I would love to do it," Larson said. "It's just timing, and I want to be in the best equipment possible. But I've told Jeff and Rick that I'd like to do it, and it's kind of up to them to find something."