NASCAR great Kurt Busch retires; still recovering from concussion effects

AP photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack / Kurt Busch answers questions from reporters after announcing his retirement from the NASCAR Cup Series before Saturday's regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kurt Busch said goodbye to NASCAR Cup Series racing Saturday, doing so on the same stage where he celebrated one of his most memorable victories.

It was an emotional farewell for sure.

Busch, 45, held back tears as he announced his retirement at Daytona International Speedway. The 2004 Cup Series champion and 2017 Daytona 500 winner called it quits mostly because he's been unable to shake the lingering effects of a significant concussion that rocked NASCAR a year ago.

"My body is just having a battle with Father Time," Busch said. "I've had arthritis ever since I can remember. My gout has flared up where I can barely walk in some days. Just pushing to get through physical therapy and continuing to work out."

Busch joins the list of drivers in recent years whose bodies helped prompt decisions to walk away: former longtime most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (concussions) and four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (lower back). Busch said he was receiving injections before races last summer — and that was before his concussion — "just so I could move my knee and move my feet."

His younger brother, two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, sat at the back of Daytona's media center during the announcement. NASCAR executives Jim France, Mike Helton, Ben Kennedy and Steve O'Donnell also were on hand along with countless Toyota brass and 23IX Racing drivers Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace.

"It's time for a new journey, and I'm excited to get started," the older Busch brother said.

The Las Vegas native incurred a life-changing concussion when he crashed during a qualifying session at Pocono Raceway last summer. After slamming into the wall backwards, the front end of his Toyota smacked it at such a G-force that raised safety concerns about the Next Gen cars.

NASCAR spent much of the offseason tweaking its car to try to limit the effects of rear-impact collisions that wreaked havoc on drivers in 2022, the debut season for the Next Gen. Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman missed five races with a concussion, and multiple other drivers complained about the violence of routine hits and wondered if they, too, had suffered head trauma.

Busch said Saturday he continues to show incremental improvements and intends to return to racing one day, but he has no timetable for getting back behind the wheel. Even if he does race again, it won't be on stock car racing's top circuit.

"Racing at NASCAR's highest level requires every bit of focus, heart, stamina and determination," Busch said. "And I know right now I can't give what's required to compete at that level week in and week out.

"It's difficult to know which avenues will lead to what in the short-term futures. I'm still wanting to get doctor approval and get cleared. That's the first step. That's what I need to do personally. Then I will have opportunities to talk to different motorsports teams and sponsors on doing other races."

Busch won 34 races in 776 starts over 23 years in the Cup Series. He landed as a consultant for his old 23XI Racing team and Toyota. He counseled Travis Pastrana at the Daytona 500 in February and has thrown his arms around anyone in the garage who needs advice.

He plans to remain maintain some role at 23XI, where he initially called himself the CFD — captain of fun department — but has since revised it to CVO, the chief vision officer.

"Whatever it means is whatever it means, but I've enjoyed working with all of the departments and being that extra set of eyes and helping our team advance so that we can win more races, be more competitive and have shots at winning championships," he said. "I want to give back to the team."