Former Cup Series champion Kurt Busch gives up full-time racing

AP file photo by Matt Kelley / Kurt Busch, who won the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series title, won't return to the car for 23XI Racing this season as he continues to recover from a concussion.

LAS VEGAS — NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, still trying to work his way through a concussion incurred three months ago and advised by doctors to stay out of a race car, will not compete on a full-time basis in 2023.

The 44-year-old former Cup Series champion made his announcement Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his home track and where he launched his career on the venue's nearby Bullring short track as a child. He choked up when he said doctors told him "it is best for me to shut it down."

"I know I am not 100% in my ability to go out and race at the top level in the NASCAR Cup Series," Busch said. "These are the best of the best drivers, and lately I haven't felt my best. My long-term health is priority number one, and I don't feel committing at this point to compete for a championship next year is in my best interest or the best interest of the team."

Tyler Reddick will replace Busch in the No. 45 Toyota at 23XI Racing next season. Reddick was signed to the team for 2024 but is no longer needed to complete his contract at Richard Childress Racing because RCR signed Kyle Busch, Kurt's younger brother and a two-time Cup Series champion, for next season.

"I will get back to 100%, I promise," Kurt Busch said. "If I'm cleared, maybe you'll see me at a few select races (next season)."

Reddick said the circumstances surrounding his early release from RCR aren't ideal, but he's pleased to get started with his new team. Reddick will be teammates with Bubba Wallace.

"Racing is a huge challenge, being competitive is a challenge," Reddick said. "I would have accepted it and taken any challenge that comes my way. But for me, I'm really glad to start the journey with (23XI) one year early, and we can get to work."

Reddick is determined to close his RCR tenure on a high note, and he won the pole position during Saturday qualifying for Sunday's race in Las Vegas.

Reddick, who said his Chevrolet was subpar in morning practice, rebounded for an electric lap at 184.603 mph to earn the top starting spot for the opening race of the third round of NASCAR's playoffs. It is the third pole of the season for Reddick, who also has three Cup Series wins but was eliminated from the playoff field in the opening round.

"I'm really excited about next year, but there's still a number of races left this year and I'm going to continue to remain focused and do everything I can for my team," Reddick said.

Austin Cindric, who was eliminated from the playoff field last week, qualified second in a Team Penske Ford. He was 0.05 second slower than Reddick.

Playoff drivers took the next three spots with William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports qualifying third in a Chevrolet, followed by Penske drivers Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.

Christopher Bell, who won on the Roval course at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Sunday to remain one of eight drivers still eligible for the title, qualified seventh in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing was 11th, Chase Briscoe of Stewart-Haas Racing qualified 16th, Chase Elliott of Hendrick was 20th and Denny Hamlin of JGR will start 31st, lowest of the eight remaining playoff drivers.

Saturday's announcement from Kurt Busch was a reminder of how much the conversation has been about the car as the drivers this season.

Busch was injured in a routine crash in July that exposed a design flaw in NASCAR's first-year Next Gen car. He has so far missed 13 consecutive races. Hendrick's Alex Bowman, who was injured last month, has missed two straight with a concussion and said this past week he'll be out at least three more races.

Busch is the last active driver who competed in a Cup Series race against the late Dale Earnhardt, and he's the last driver who was part of the inaugural 10-driver playoff — then known as the Chase — in 2004, the year he upset the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut and won his only title on the top circuit.

Unless Busch returns, SHR's Kevin Harvick will be the last active driver who raced when NASCAR's top circuit was called the Winston Cup Series.

He's in his second season with 23XI Racing, and team co-owner Hamlin said the organization and Toyota want Busch to remain part of the team. He's under contract through next season to 23XI.

"Unfortunate circumstances led Kurt to a difficult decision, but we know that he will continue to contribute to the entire program at Toyota, TRD and 23XI Racing," said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development. "He brings a tremendous amount of knowledge and firsthand championship experience to his team and fellow Toyota competitors. We're here to support Kurt in this next chapter of his career and look forward to continuing to work alongside him."

Busch made his Cup debut in 2000 with Roush Racing in a Ford, then ran the full season as a rookie in 2001. He was fired after five tumultuous seasons with Roush — a stint that included his title — and moved to Team Penske to drive a Dodge in 2006.

His Penske relationship also ended poorly after the 2011 season, and Busch moved to Phoenix Racing to drive a Chevrolet for James Finch for one season, then went to Furniture Row Racing in 2013, where he revitalized his career — and began to show maturity on and off the track when it came to taming his notorious temper.

Busch moved to SHR in 2014 and was suspended by NASCAR for the first three races of 2015 for domestic violence allegations made by an ex-girlfriend. He later landed with Chip Ganassi Racing and finally 23XI to drive a Toyota in 2021.

He is one of the rare drivers to compete for and win for all of NASCAR's manufacturers. Busch and his younger brother joined Bobby and Terry Labonte as the only siblings to win Cup titles.

"For spending 23 years in this sport, and he's had a phenomenal career, and to not be able to come back full time is obviously doctors' orders, hoping he can still make peace with it all and be happy with whatever he's going to do going forward," Kyle Busch said. "He's healthy, he'll be able to be normal, as normal as the Busches are, for the rest of his life, and that's good."

Kurt won 34 races in 776 Cup Series starts in 23 years, including the Daytona 500 in 2017 with SHR and sponsor Monster, which has remained with him to this day. He said he'll remain a Monster ambassador and has approached Fox Sports about doing television work moving forward.