Kurt Busch has been informed his option won’t be picked up at Stewart-Haas Racing after this season, a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN on Tuesday.
Busch, who won the season-opening Daytona 500 and is 14th in the NASCAR Cup standings, will become a free agent as of Wednesday morning, the source said, but it is possible that Stewart-Haas Racing could sign him during free agency.
NBC Sports and Motorsport.com first reported news of the team’s decision to decline the option on Busch, who has driven for the team since 2014.
Stewart-Haas Racing disputed the reports that Busch would not return to the team next season in a tweet stating that Busch is expected to drive for the team next year.
An SHR spokesman would not comment beyond the tweet.
Monster Energy, which became the NASCAR Cup series sponsor in 2017, has not announced whether it would return in 2018 to sponsor a car at SHR or Busch. If SHR doesn’t pick up Busch’s option, that would make Busch a free agent and able to sign with anyone, whether that’s to return to SHR, if sponsorship materializes, or another team.
Busch would become the second NASCAR Cup champion to be looking for a 2018 ride, as Joe Gibbs Racing already has announced that Erik Jones would replace 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 car next year.
Both are possible candidates to replace Jones in the Furniture Row Racing No. 77 car next season. Team owner Barney Visser said a few weeks ago that the team would like to continue operating that car, but it would need sponsorship.
Hendrick Motorsports also could have an opening if it releases Kasey Kahne, who is signed through 2018. Kahne’s two primary sponsors are leaving after this season, and team owner Rick Hendrick has said that plans for the No. 5 car are not solidified for next season.
SHR also could have another opening in addition to Busch, as Danica Patrick has minimal sponsorship for next season. She has said she hopes to return.
In 597 career Cup starts, Busch has 29 career wins and 127 top-5 finishes. Busch, who will turn 39 on Friday, won the 2004 NASCAR Cup title while driving for team owner Jack Roush.