Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. When Kurt Busch was last at Daytona International Speedway for a race weekend, the announcement that he would join 23XI Racing this year was spliced into the anticipation for the NASCAR Cup Series’ regular-season finale. It would be the seventh stop in his two-decades-plus career.
That August weekend, Busch said he was already working the phones and fielding calls from crew and colleagues who wanted in. That No. 45 Toyota team is now built up, complete with a reunion at crew chief.
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Busch will have the veteran voice of Billy Scott guiding him this year, the first campaign for 23XI as a two-car operation. The two had paired up in 2018 with Stewart-Haas Racing to solid success, but that partnership was short-lived. When the time came to put the band back together, Scott was high on the list.
“I feel like we have some unfinished business,” Busch said after last season. “I think that’s the best quote that I can give is unfinished business for me, Billy Scott, and a group of … not rebels, but a group of guys that were assembled as all-stars from different teams. We were like, ‘we like youwe like you,’ and everybody wanted to jump on board and be part of this 45 car.”
Scott first connected with Busch at SHR after longtime wrench Tony Gibson shifted away from full-time crew chief duties after the 2017 season. In came Scott, and the No. 41 team that they formed kept producing consistent results.
Busch has had seasons with more wins (four each in 2002 and 2003 as he burst onto the scene), a season with a Cup Series title (2004) and one with a Daytona 500 victory (2017). But his season with Scott established a high-water mark for top-10 finishes – 22 in 36 races – that’s still tops for Busch’s career.
The pairing didn’t last, however. Busch departed in 2019 to drive for team owner Chip Ganassi. Scott stayed on to work with Daniel Suarez for one last season at Stewart-Haas before picking up with Richard Childress Racing and its affiliates. Neither driver nor crew chief may have verbalized it at the time, but the lingering “what-ifs” remained after they parted ways.
“It’s funny because we didn’t really talk about that with each other until recently,” Scott told NASCAR.com. “It all came to an end real quick, something that neither one of us wanted or even fully expected leading up to that. So it was unfortunate. I think we would have continued to grow, being there. We were in a good situation. That team there had a lot of success across the board, and we would have loved to keep that up, but it wasn’t up to us and it didn’t work out. So yes, being back together now, it does have some sentimental value to it. We both were regretful that it ended and wished we could have just seen what we could’ve made if we’d progressed.”
With the 23XI Racing footprint growing under the vision of team co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, Busch and Scott now have that chance. And the opportunity for growth isn’t limited to the team in general. 23XI competition director Mike Wheeler says that Scott’s potential extends beyond the pit box’s reach.
“Billy was touted as a very good and responsible teammate,” Wheeler says. “He’s an engineer that I worked around, but never really had dealings with, but during the interview process, I really liked a lot of the things he was thinking about and had experiences with. I think we aligned in a lot of the thought process to make the cars go faster, how to treat people. And honestly, we’re working on our structure here to make him a senior race engineer and leader of our company, not just the team manager for the 45 but growing the company together.
“He fits that role and believes in that process. Once that came out in light of him, it was a very easy decision to kind of chase him and to make sure he joined our team.”
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Scott’s last Cup Series appearance as a crew chief came two years ago, overseeing Justin Haley’s Daytona 500 bid with Kaulig Racing. COVID-19 altered plans for more part-time crew chief starts, and he transitioned to the race engineering group and helping with the development phase and systems testing of the Next Gen car.
The appointment to his 23XI Racing post came nine days after the 2021 season ended, and Scott has already settled in with Busch, saying that “it does feel like it was yesterday that we ran our last race together.” Since then, he’s also had time to get better acquainted with 23XI’s mission as it enters its second season of Cup Series competition.
“It’s an awesome atmosphere, super-excited to be a part of it from that standpoint and from the growth,” Scott says. “It’s neat to watch something and be a part of something building up. I’ve kind of done that before at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) as that place evolved and grew, and it feels very similar to that. It’s all one team approach. Everybody there has a great attitude and is working together really well right now. We want to keep that and keep growing with them.
“I know Denny and Michael have a great vision for that and want to do things a little bit different in some respects, so that part’s fun to be a part of and it’s neat to be back in a small team. When they started building for the second team, I think there was barely 20 employees and now they’re just probably around 50 or so. But it’s still small enough that you know everybody and it’s very personal, and it’s nice to get back to that.”