Kurt Busch announced Friday that he and Monster Energy would join 23XI Racing in 2022 for their new No. 45 Toyota Camry entry.
Busch clarified on Saturday that he and Monster Energy each signed a multi-year deal with the team.
Hamlin explicitly stated Saturday that Busch was the driver they were after for expanding 23XI Racing. He also met with multiple of Kurt Busch’s former teammates who gave universal praise toward his ability to build up a consistent top 5 and top 10-finishing team.
“Kurt instantly jumps his up to that level,” Hamlin stated. “If you’ve talked with anyone who’s worked with him as a teammate, you know he’s the perfect guy to go out there & help your program.”
Busch has made 745 NASCAR Cup Series starts – the most of any active driver – since his first full-time season in 2001.
In his 22nd full-time season, retirement was on the horizon for the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion but the 23XI Racing deal was too lucrative for him to pass up.
“It was on the table but it wasn’t the biggest category of thought,” Busch said. “I’ve completed quite a bit of my checklist in NASCAR and this is a box that I didn’t realize existed and that’s building a team from scratch with Toyota and Monster Energy. All of that leapfrogged ahead of stepping away from full-time NASCAR driving.
Busch had another offer, which was to work behind-the-scenes role with a manufacturer to develop the NextGen car simulator.
“If a racing contract didn’t come into play, I still feel like my experience and value, especially with all the new simulators, there was still valuable sim-wise because of volunteering with the NextGen car,” Busch said. “I raised my hand highest because I wanted to build experience with the NextGen car to help the car or the manufacturer or myself to all understand more about it.”
Busch will drive the No. 45 as it was the only other available number that team co-owner Michael Jordan used in his career.
Petty Enterprises last used the No. 45 full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series, in 2008 with Kyle Petty. Petty began racing the number in honor of his late son, Adam, who died in a fatal crash while driving the No. 45 car at New Hampshire in 2000.
“When we talked to NASCAR, they said that number has been on the sidelines for a while so you might want to talk to Kyle,” Denny Hamlin said. “Our president Steve Lauletta reached out to him and had a good conversation. We agreed that this was the best opportunity to bring that No. 45 back to the racetrack.”
Busch will join his brother, Kyle, as a Toyota Racing teammate in 2022, which was something he stated would be impossible years ago. However, as they each grew more, it became more of a boost than a hindrance for them and who they are working with.
“The Monday meetings are going to have the feeling of, ‘Are there too many Busches in the room?’,” Busch joked, “but we will have the right people in the room to develop the NextGen car.”
Beyond 2022, 23XI Racing has no plans to expand its two-car team yet. A charter for the No. 45 team has not even been secured yet but Hamlin expressed confidence in finding one.
Rumors have also circulated about Hamlin having talks with Front Row Motorsports about partnering or merging 23XI with them. However, Hamlin did not address the rumors in Saturday’s media availability.