Aric Almirola could drive for Kyle Busch
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Aric Almirola told ESPN.com on Thursday he has been contacted by Joe Gibbs Racing about possibly replacing Kyle Busch in the final two Sprint Cup races and is awaiting final word from the organization.
ESPN's Marty Smith reported Thursday on SportsCenter and NASCAR Now that Busch, according to sources, will be in the No. 18 Cup car this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway and next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Multiple sources told ESPN.com that the car likely will be sponsored by Interstate Batteries instead of M&Ms, which was scheduled to be on the car as the primary sponsor.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that according to multiple people familiar with Busch's schedule, Z-Line Designs asked this week that Denny Hamlin replace Busch in the Nationwide race at Homestead.
Mars Incorporated, which manufacturers M&Ms, stated its displeasure with Busch for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Nov. 4 Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch was parked for the Nationwide Series and Cup Series races at Texas, then fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the rest of the season by NASCAR.
But according to sources, Mars Inc. still had reservations about having its name on the Cup car with Busch for the last two races, prompting the call to Almirola.
Almirola said JGR president J.D. Gibbs contacted him Wednesday to see if he would be available. Almirola, who drives a Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, said JRM has given him permission to drive for the Toyota team.
"Your guess is as good as mine,'' Almirola told ESPN.com before Nationwide practice at Phoenix as to what will happen. "I know they're working through a lot of things. I just told them I was available if they needed me."
Although NASCAR has cleared Busch to race this weekend at Phoenix, JGR officials have been silent on his status in Sunday's Cup race.
Although JGR has not said if Busch's job is in jeopardy, he has been fired before. Hendrick Motorsports let him go at the end of the 2007 season, when the team made room to sign Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch has been off the track since he intentionally wrecked Hornaday. Busch has admitted he lost control of his temper, though at first he expressed little remorse.
"I lost my cool, no doubt about it," he said. "I've been wrecked four weeks in a row, and I've had enough of it, and I retaliated. So it's certainly my fault for doing that. If everybody wants to say, 'Hornaday is racing for a championship, roll over,' that's not my fashion. That's not anybody else's fashion out here."
His tone changed considerably a day later.
"I've had a lot of time today to sit and reflect, and try to put my thoughts into words as best I can," he wrote in a lengthy apology posted Saturday on the Kyle Busch Motorsports website. "I want to sincerely apologize for my actions during Friday night's Truck Series race at Texas."
Brad Keselowski, preparing to practice the No. 22 in the Nationwide Series for Penske Racing, said Busch has been punished enough.
"Free Kyle Busch,'' he said with a smile.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to thsi report.