- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Kyle Busch could have gone to another Nextel Cup organization for more money.
He could have gone to another and been the No. 1 driver.
He definitely could have gone to another where there was less likelihood for internal controversy between teammates.
But Busch wanted to go where he could immediately challenge for a championship and work with an owner who will stand behind him during bad times as well as good.
So he chose Joe Gibbs Racing.
Busch officially was introduced on Tuesday at JGR, where he will join two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and reigning rookie of the year Denny Hamlin in 2008 to form arguably the strongest stable of drivers in NASCAR.
"It was an easy decision after looking at all the prospects," said 22-year-old Busch, who was pushed out at Hendrick Motorsports to make room for Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season. "I don't feel like I have taken a step backward one bit.
"I feel I can go out there and contend week in and week out."
Busch received a three-year deal -- as well as a No. 18 Washington Redskins jersey -- but he hopes to stay much longer when he begins the next chapter of his sometimes controversial career in the No. 18 car currently driven by J.J. Yeley.
"I got to thinking about this," JGR owner Joe Gibbs said in a taped interview from the Redskins training camp, where he begins his fourth year of his second stint as head coach. "We've got Tony and the way Tony acts sometimes. We've found Denny is no piece of cake. Now we've got Kyle Busch.
"J.D., good luck."
J.D. Gibbs, who runs JGR as team president while his father enjoys his football hobby, couldn't help but laugh. He added that Busch reminds him a lot of Stewart.
"Which is kind of frightening," J.D. said.
Asked whether Busch could be kept in line the way Stewart has, he added, "Did I miss something? Do we actually keep Tony in line?"
J.D. isn't worried about a great clash of egos. He's more concerned about keeping sponsors happy, keeping employees from going other places and winning races.
He knows the best way to do that is by putting the best drivers behind the wheel, and in Busch he believes he has one of the best.
"Tony, for as intense and impassioned as he is around the track, more and more people don't see him off the track and all he does in his heart, the way he cares about people," J.D. said.
"I see a lot of the same in Kyle. He has a good sense of humor, a quick wit and will bond well with our guys."
Busch showed a glimpse of that humor when asked whether he'd made peace with Stewart, with whom he has had more than his share of run-ins.
"I don't know if we ever did," he said with a wry smile.
Smiles aside, Stewart and Busch have had their differences. At the Budweiser Shootout in February, Stewart shoved Busch out of the way with eight laps remaining for the victory.
That came a year after Stewart said Busch was going to "probably hurt somebody out there." A few weeks later, Busch radioed during a race at Las Vegas that Stewart was "trying to kill me."
"On the track? [My relationship with Tony is] probably not very good," Busch said later.
Busch said those were all racing deals, reminding folks that Stewart was one of the drivers he idolized when coming into the sport.
"A couple of weeks later, we sat down and talked about it and put it all aside and figured we would be better off as friends than as enemies," he said. "To me, Tony and I think we can get along very well as teammates."
Busch's relationship with Hamlin never has been an issue. They are friends on and off the track, spending time on the lake wakeboarding and hanging out at Hamlin's home next to his owner.
"I guess we're still kids, so that's probably why we're pretty good friends," Busch said.
But this move wasn't about friendship. It was about competition. Hamlin said the talent level at JGR now has to be equal to or better than that of any other team in the garage.
"It's going to push me to be better," he said. "He's fast, and he's going to make us have to step up our game to keep up with him."
"You put Kyle Busch in anything and that's an improvement," Petty said. "You might not like his personality and people might not like the things he does and says, but he's a race car driver."
Busch became available when Earnhardt, NASCAR's most popular driver, was signed to replace him at HMS. He said at the time that money wasn't nearly as important as finding the right team and owner.
He never wavered during the search, choosing JGR over Dale Earnhardt Inc., Chip Ganassi Racing, Evernham Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing.
"Going to DEI, that was definitely a possibility," Busch said. "But being the leader of a team or even right there with Martin Truex at 22 years of age isn't something I'm ready for, it isn't something I was ready to throw myself into."
That doesn't mean Busch considers himself No. 3 at JGR. He likes to think all three drivers are No. 1 in their own right.
"The Nextel Cup Series is filled with good teams and good people, but the moment I saw the shop and began talking with Joe and J.D. Gibbs, there was a level of comfort that made me feel like this is where I belong," Busch said.
"I want to win races and championships, and Joe Gibbs Racing's three-car/one-team philosophy gives me the best opportunity to do that."
Busch never quite fit in with the button-down, polished Hendrick mold. He said his off-the-track behavior as much as anything led owner Rick Hendrick to make the move to Earnhardt, saying it was more of a business than a driver decision.
He looks forward to the opportunity to show his true personality, sounding much like brother Kurt Busch when he left Roush Fenway Racing for Penske Racing after the 2005 season.
"I think I've done a very good job of tricking everybody," Busch said of keeping his real personality under wraps. "I show the bad side. I don't show them the good side. Why show the good side? I'd be Carl Edwards or something.
"With all J.D. says he's paying me I guess I need to pay some more people to help me out, polish me up and give me some buffers. I've got a few edges here and there. Hopefully, none where I can't grind them down and soften them up some."
His new owner should be up to the challenge after years of dealing with Stewart.
Internal conflict is nothing new to Gibbs, either. When Hamlin and Stewart got into a feud after crashing while running first and second last month at Daytona, he flew to Chicago the next Saturday to straighten them out.
But Gibbs is as excited about having Busch on board as Busch is to be onboard.
With one exception.
"Let me get this straight," Gibbs said in his taped interview. "I've been up here sweating on these fields the last three years so we could afford Tony and Denny's contracts. Now J.D. tells me I have to coach for the next 10 years to afford Kyle's contract.
"There's only one clause I want put in that contract. Kyle can't move into my neighborhood. Denny living next to me with the parties and everything, he's helped ruin the neighborhood."
David Newton covers Nextel Cup racing for ESPN.com.
2dBob Pockrass and John Oreovicz