When Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan announced their intention to form a NASCAR Cup Series team on September 21, 2020 the road ahead seemed promising but demanding.
In October of that year, when it was announced 23XI Racing would field Toyotas and partner with Joe Gibbs Racing, Jordan made it clear he expected to contend right away.
“My main goal for 23XI Racing is to be competitive for a championship as soon as possible,” said Jordan. “Our partnership with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing gives us the equipment, resources and expertise to do it.”
Less than three years later, on September 10, 2023 at Kansas Speedway, 23XI Racing celebrated the organization’s fifth victory in just 100 starts, with both Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace battling in the NASCAR Playoffs. Five days prior to the Kansas win, the team extended its partnership with JGR and Toyota for multiple years.
The team has earned those five wins in three seasons with three different drivers - Reddick, Wallace and former Cup Series champion Kurt Busch. In Reddick’s first season with the team, he has scored two wins, nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes.
For Wallace, the 2023 season has been one of stress and success, with each section of the season building to a stressful culmination to keep advancing first to the Playoffs, then through to the Round of 12.
Wallace will kick off the second round of the Playoffs in a strong way by putting the No. 23 Toyota on the pole for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.
What has been the key to 23XI Racing’s success so soon in the process?
According to those closest, it’s open minds, incredible partnerships, determination and a little bit of fun along the way.
“It’s all about the people at 23XI, the 23-team and the 45-car as well,”
Wallace said after his pole run on Saturday.
“We keep pushing each other to be better and better and it’s paying off. I’m proud of the effort, but it’s nice for a moment, tomorrow is the real test.”
Reddick credits the alliances they have and the leadership all throughout the organization to the team’s success.
“I think it’s the great minds we have at 23XI Racing. It’s the great partnerships we have with Toyota, TRD and Joe Gibbs Racings. The alliance with those different partners has obviously helped us nail the important details right off the bat and then fine-tune it on the things we think we need to. That has been very beneficial."
“On top of that, just great people that Denny and the ownership group went out and sought, whether it’s behind the scenes, up front, you name it, I think they’ve gone out and got some great individuals to work with the team.”
Wallace echoed his teammates sentiments, crediting those leading the organization with providing the resources and drive to succeed week-in and week-out.
“I think just learning, me having an open ear and open mind, listening to Denny, listening to a lot of veterans we have at the team that are steering the direction and trusting that process,”
Wallace said at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“We know that our cars are fast. We have to massage on them a lot and find every gray area. Having Bootie (Barker) and Billy (Scott) lead that ship is really beneficial for our team."
“We have the key people in the right areas to bring fast race cars. It’s good. There’s times when we are the top two Toyota cars, and that’s big. I’m proud of everyone’s efforts, just have to keep it going.”
Although he announced his retirement from full-time racing earlier this year, veteran Kurt Busch has remained a crucial part of the organization. From mentoring Reddick and Wallace, to working with partners to grow the team, or helping on race weekends from the track or the war room back at the shop, Busch has been one of those leaders within the team making a difference.
“Our motto at 23XI is, ‘Forward Together,’ and we do a lot of unique things within our structure to make sure the amount of crew members that are working on these cars are committed to both the No. 23 and the No. 45.”
According to Busch, only a handful of crew members are dedicated to specific car numbers, with most of the others within the organization working closely together regardless of the team or car number.
“The pit crews might show up for each specific car number, the engineers and maybe a few other of the wrenches and mechanics show up for the specific car number, after that it is a basket-weaving process that is layered so that the engineer on the No. 45 will keep track of something on the No. 23. The race strategist on the No. 23 will help with something on the No. 45. It’s a concept that is new to our sport but is not new to motorsports."
“Then you have your group of men and women that go to the track and the ones that stay back at the race shop, and a powerful marketing team that’s led within our group by Steve Lauletta, our president, who answers to a guy named Michael Jordan and a guy named Denny Hamlin. We’ve got a bunch of power players in power spots,” he said. “I’m kind of an overseer in all categories.”
While Hamlin is in the unique position of racing against his own drivers for the Cup Series championship, he has shifted his focus since the Playoffs started to step back from the ownership role just a bit - something he has found success with.
Hamlin won the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, while both Reddick and Wallace advanced into the next round.
“For me to kind of put 23XI a little bit on the back burner the last 10 (weeks), it’s been awesome. I’ve actually had a few afternoons where I was able to sit down and not do anything, which is fabulous,”
“I’m having fun right now, I really am,”
It seems Hamlin isn’t the only one having fun, as both 23XI Racing drivers have been all smiles as of late.
With Reddick and Wallace both still in contention for the Playoffs and fast cars each week, Michael Jordan’s 2020 goals of contending for a championship as soon as possible may be coming to fruition after just three years.