Kurt Busch still ‘in negotiations’ but SHR expects deal soon

Photo by Matthew T. Thacker/Nigel Kinrade Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor
With Kurt Busch seemingly having Monster Energy at his side and backing from Ford Performance it is almost a given he will be back at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 but with just three races left in the season no deal has been inked.

Busch, who won the 2017 Daytona 500, still doesn’t have a deal for next year and he would only say that he is “in negotiations” but did not confirm if that included anyone other than SHR. Previously, he said that he considered himself a “free agent” and had been fielding calls from multiple teams.

Joe Custer, SHR executive vice-president, told Kickin’ the Tires this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway that he expects to see Busch behind the wheel of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas CNC Ford next season. The process is complicated, he said, on getting a deal put in place but is moving forward.

“We’re still working on it but yeah, that’s always been our goal,” Custer said. “We’re 100 percent in. We are working hard to get it done. You know, it’s just the nature of the beast these days, I think, up and down the garage you see it all, you know, between sponsorship and everything we are all working on so hard for. It’s a tough sell, it’s a tough environment out there.

“It’s the new norm … it used to be deals were done a year ahead and they were done in three-year increments. It’s just that you don’t see that very often anymore.”

Asked if the team was in active negotiations with Busch and wanted to see him back behind the wheel with Monster Energy on the hood, Custer was adamant that a deal will be reached. In fact, he rebuffed any notion of not having Busch in the fold.

“We love Kurt and we’re working hard, I expect something shortly,” Custer said. “For us, the reality is we are racers, time is everything and we want to move quickly. Sometimes, you just have to have patience.

“They (Monster Energy) are a great partner to answer your question, absolutely,” he said. “And an important partner, you know, but business is business and people are taking a long, hard looks at every aspect of it. And it is just taking longer than it ever has. I don’t think it is more negative … it’s just there are lots more people involved. They’re taking a harder look at all the data. Everything is being looked at much closer in the sponsorship environment and it probably should be.”

Custer said he is “optimistic” about the future performance of the No. 41 car and said the team has shown improvement in recent weeks. He feels like that improvement will carry over into 2018 once a deal is reached.

“Everything is pointing towards another solid year and an even better performance next year for the 41,” Custer said. “We have been working hard and we are starting to see the fruits of it. The car is running better and that is really the most important thing is performance.”

Still, with sponsor-backing and some recent shifts in the Ford power dynamic in the Monster Energy Cup Series garage, Busch could still move to another team if the deal was right. Front Row Motorsports is expected to sign Michael McDowell to replace Landon Cassill at the end of the season but in an interview with Kickin’ the Tires at Talladega Superspeedway, FRM general manager Jerry Freeze said, “We’re still working on our 2018 plans is the best way to put it. So, we’re just trying to finalize everything, what opportunities there might be around the drivers primarily and talking to a few guys but we are certainly not at the finish line with anybody quite yet.

“I don’t know, you never know, there are some really high-profile names out there,” he said. “We are talking to several people. You know who is all out there and different people are looking for a ride.”

As of this past weekend, David Ragan said he had not signed his deal to stay at FRM but he expected it soon. Additionally, it was recently reported the organization is now on the blue oval Tier 1 program, meaning it will have top-of-the-line engine support from Ford.

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