Kyle Busch to return without M&M's
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kyle Busch will compete in the final two Sprint Cup races but without primary sponsor M&M's on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Sources said Busch will be sponsored by Interstate Batteries in Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway and next weekend's finale at Miami-Homestead Speedway.
The decision ended several days of speculation that Busch would be parked for the final two races or possibly lose his job because Mars Incorporated, the parent company of M&M's, was displeased with his behavior and threatening to pull out.
"Kyle's recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars," said Debra A. Sandler, chief consumer officer of Mars Chocolate North America. "While we do not condone Kyle's recent actions, we do believe that he has shown remorse and has expressed a desire to change. We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win."
Owner Joe Gibbs released a statement Thursday that said JGR supported Mars' decision.
The saga began Nov. 4 when Busch, driving for his own team, intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. on Lap 14 of the Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, ending the four-time champion's hope of another title.
It continued Saturday, with Busch being told by NASCAR that he was parked for the Nationwide Series race that day and Sunday's Sprint Cup race.
On Monday, Busch was fined $50,000 by NASCAR, placed on probation for the remainder of the season and told any further misconduct could result in being suspended indefinitely.
Don't know what's been done to him. Don't care. Just hopefully he keeps his ride. The kid is definitely a great asset to the sport ... When they sat him out, that was good enough for me, sitting him out for two races.” -- Ron Hornaday Jr.
Since then, JGR and Mars Incorporated officials have been discussing whether to further punish the 26-year-old driver. Sources said Mars Inc. wanted Busch out for the remainder of the Cup season.
It even got to the point that on Wednesday, JGR president J.D. Gibbs contacted Aric Almirola, who drives a Nationwide Series car for JR Motorsports, about replacing Busch in the No. 18 for the final two races.
Several drivers said during Thursday's Nationwide Series test of the new surface at PIR that Busch had been punished enough. Among those was Hornaday.
"Don't know what's been done to him. Don't care,'' he said. "Just hopefully he keeps his ride. The kid is definitely a great asset to the sport. He's a very talented kid, but you hate to hear about the sponsors and what they're planning on doing and what they're not planning on doing.
"When they sat him out, that was good enough for me, sitting him out for two races.''
Defending Nationwide Series champion Brad Keselowski agreed, adding, "Free Kyle Busch.''
Elliott Sadler, who trails Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 17 points in the Nationwide Series, drove from 2003 to 2006 in the Cup series with M&M's as his sponsor. He understood more than most the sponsor wanting to take a stand.
"Every sponsor I've ever dealt with in this sport is image-conscious,'' he said. "I will say Mars probably was the most because of the people they are tailoring to. You've got kids looking up to you because you're driving the M&M's car. That is a different set of rules than a lot of other cars.''
But Sadler was hopeful Mars Inc. could work things out with Busch.
"We definitely want and need Kyle Busch to be a part of this sport,'' he said. "He's good for the fans. He's good for the sport. We definitely want M&M's to be a part of the sport. They're a huge brand and a huge footprint.''
This isn't the first time Busch has angered sponsors. His relationship with Kellogg's got to the point that Hendrick Motorsports didn't re-sign him after the 2007 season.
Busch has had several incidents this year on and off the track that have disappointed his sponsors. He was charged with going 128 mph in a 45 mph speed zone in May and was placed on probation for four races after a pit-road incident in the Cup race at Darlington.
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.
Busch has admitted he lost control of his temper and apologized in an open letter.
"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 and 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."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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