Reigning Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch is changing teams, moving from Roush Racing to Penske Racing South. The only question is when.

Busch signed a multiyear contract to drive for Penske starting in 2007 and asked to be released from his current contract with Roush Racing, apparently in hopes of replacing retiring Rusty Wallace next season. In a statement, Roush said the team will wait for “an indefinite period” before making a decision on Busch’s request to leave after this season.

“Yeah, we have signed him up for 2007,” Penske team president Don Miller told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “As for anything else, the lawyers tell us we can’t really comment. We’ll just have to see how things shake out.

“Kurt Busch is a great driver and Ryan (Newman) said he is looking forward to having him as a teammate and working with him.”

Newman is the current teammate of Wallace, the 1989 series champion, who is retiring at the end of the 2005 season, leaving a vacant seat in the No. 2 Dodge.

Busch attended the Cubs-Reds baseball game Tuesday at Wrigley Field in Chicago and initially fended off questions about the move, saying, “It’s just baseball today.”

But, after throwing out the first pitch and leading the crowd in singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch, he did talk about his future.

“There’s still so much more work to be done in the meantime. I’ve got an opportunity to win a championship in 2005, as well as 2006, for whomever I drive for,” Busch said.

“Roush Racing has given me the best equipment to go and do so, and I’m for the opportunity of what these next five races mean, which is to get into the playoffs and of course, the Chase.

“There’s times for change and then there’s times for staying put,” he added. “I haven’t made my 2006 plans very clear yet.”

Roush said there were “sponsor and team considerations” to take into account before making a decision regarding Busch for next season. The team said it would have no additional comment on the split.

Roush is in much the same situation as the Penske team, with Jamie McMurray, currently driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, signed for 2007 to replace Mark Martin, who is planning to retire at the end of this season.

“This does not change anything with us and Jamie. He will still be driving for us in 2006,” Ganassi, who has an option on McMurray’s services for next year, told the AP.

That leaves the No. 6 Ford without a driver for 2006, although Martin has said he would consider staying an extra year if Jack Roush, his longtime boss, needs him.

But Wallace has said repeatedly this will be his final year in the driver’s seat. There was no word from Penske on who would drive the No. 2 next season if Busch does not become available.

Roush came to NASCAR’s top stock car series in 1988 with one driver, Martin, and has turned the team into a five-car juggernaut with Busch, Martin, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. The team has won two straight championships and leads everyone this season with nine victories in the first 21 races, including two by Busch.

Roush went 16 years before Kenseth gave him his first Cup title in 2003. Busch then won it in 2004, the first year of NASCAR’s 10-race, playoff-style Chase for the Championship.

Busch, who turned 27 last week, stands fifth in this year’s points race, 277 points behind leader Tony Stewart.

After a slow start to his Cup defense, he has finished in the top 10 in four of his past six races, but slipped to an 18th-place finish Sunday in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in Indianapolis.

With victories this season at Pocono and Phoenix, Busch seems a solid bet to be among the top 10 drivers in the points standings when NASCAR resets the field for the Chase following the Sept. 10 race in Richmond, Va.

Roush first hired the virtually unknown Busch in 2000 to drive in the Craftsman Truck Series.

He won four races that year and finished second in the points standings, leading Roush to move him straight to NASCAR’s top series without the traditional intermediate stop on the second-tier Busch Series.

He won his first Cup race in 2002 and had four wins that season. For his Cup career, Busch has 13 wins in 171 starts.

Busch, then 26, was the third-youngest champion in NASCAR history when he won the title last season.

He recently said he felt his team was poised to make a run for back-to-back titles, something no one has done since Jeff Gordon in 1997 and 1998.

Busch has a history of feuds with rival drivers – Jimmy Spencer punched him in the nose in 2003 – and run-ins with NASCAR officials.

Earlier this year, after a tantrum at Darlington that included expletives directed at NASCAR officials over his in-car radio, Busch was placed on unofficial probation by NASCAR and given notice that the sanctioning body would tolerate no more bad behavior.

AP-ES-08-09-05 2009EDT

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