All the pieces have officially fallen into place for 23XI Racing, the new NASCAR Cup Series team set to debut in 2021 for driver Bubba Wallace, owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
The No. 23 was officially unveiled on Friday during a segment on CBS This Morning as a Toyota Camry with technical support from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Given that Hamlin is under contract as a current driver with Gibbs and Toyota, it seemed like a fait accompli that 23XI (pronounced Twenty-Three Eleven) would be affiliated with both -- but it was simply a matter of finalizing the details of the contract.
The team also confirmed that veteran crew chief Mike Wheeler would serve in that capacity in 2021.
"Toyota is in the business of winning and winning championships and I want to contribute to that," Hamlin said during a Friday morning media availability. "I am way too competitive and anybody that knows me knows that I don't do anything halfway. I make sure that I do it the right way. I'm trying to do that right from year one. It will take time. Ultimately, to build this into the organization like a Joe Gibbs Racing. It takes a lot of time. So, we have to be patient as far as that's concerned. But I believe that we're putting the best team that's possibly available together. I'm pretty confident that we're going to have the parts and pieces we need to do it. My vision is well beyond just a one car team and hopefully we can execute and continue to grow year after year."
The agreement with Gibbs calls for 23XI Racing to receive the best available equipment in terms of chassis, bodies and engines. The team will work out of Germain Racing’s shop in Mooresville, North Carolina.
23XI Racing purchased the ownership charter from Germain and that agreement also included its property. Germain has spent the past three seasons working remotely on the Richard Childress Racing campus in Welcome, North Carolina, but will close next month after an 11-year Cup Series stint.
When 23XI Racing was first launched, there were also questions about how the team would interact with JGR, in the sense that it could be viewed as a fifth car for Joe Gibbs’ organization -- something that is strictly prohibited by current NASCAR regulations.
Hamlin says his new team is completely independent from Gibbs in that 23XI Racing will pay for all equipment and resources and features a staff entirely of employees hired by Hamlin and Jordan. That satisfied NASCAR’s requirements.
"They're not providing services to us for free," Hamlin said. "They're not providing cars to us for free. Everything is independent in terms of not using any (JGR) staff. We have our own payroll, and our own vendors we have to pay, so this organization stands on its own as far as that's concerned.
"That was the main criteria: That it has to stand on its own."
From that standpoint, it’s similar to the agreement Gibbs and Toyota had with Furniture Row Racing from 2016-2019, which allowed the team to have an office in the JGR shop since that team was headquartered in Denver, Colorado.
In this case, 23XI will have a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina and will purchase a majority of its equipment from Gibbs.
From Toyota’s standpoint, the manufacturer needed another long-term team to compliment Joe Gibbs Racing after the closure of its two most recent satellite partners Furniture Row Racing and Leavine Family Racing.
Toyota has been criticized for not having enough quality rides to place their top development drivers, something that recently came to a head with Gibbs having to let Erik Jones depart in order to make room for Christopher Bell.
It’s a reality that Toyota Racing Development president and general manager David Wilson acknowledged as a positive byproduct of the long-term prospects of 23XI Racing.
"It's been an amazing run with Joe Gibbs Racing, and we've done more than we could have possibly hoped for and imagined," Wilson said. "Yet, we also recognize as a manufacturer, as an OEM in this sport, that we do need a little broader presence.
"We have been looking out at the horizon at this Next-Gen car as a perfect opportunity to broaden that presence. We were already looking and talking to a number of teams. So, to have one of our own family members come to us with this type of opportunity, it was serendipitous."
As Hamlin has repeatedly stated, 23XI Racing isn’t simply a short-term project to provide Wallace top-flight equipment, before moving on, but rather a long-term goal that will fully occupy his time once he retires from active competition.
Hamlin has no immediate intentions of retiring but wanted to lay the foundation for where he would work once that day comes.
As a result, he’s already thinking about expansion into a multi-car program, and what he would need to make that come to fruition.
"Listen, you'll always be able to get a (charter), but it's just a matter of what they're going to cost," Hamlin said. "But I think that, if you're go to start thinking about a second team, you'll need to start thinking about it at least 10 months in advance of the next season.
"We obviously put this together in a very short amount of time -- looking at five months between when we got a deal done and when we need to be essentially at Daytona and putting a race-winning car on the track.
"So, everything's working fast forward right now for us behind the scenes. Certainly, the vision is to go to multiple cars as soon as possible."
The entire process was sped up by Wallace emerging as a voice for social justice and his impending free agency from Richard Petty Motorsports. It’s a topic that both Hamlin and Jordan feel very strongly about, and both felt the time was simply right to launch the team now, instead of a few years into the future.
And they expect to be competitive.
"Realistically, we want to contend for race wins," Hamlin said. "That'll be the first obstacle -- to show that we can run top five, and then contend from there.
"I don't think I have a specific number goal, whether it be a points finish or race wins or top-5s or top-10s. I just want to see that we are competitive.
"And if we're not, you've got an insider such as myself or Joe Gibbs Racing that knows what it takes to be competitive."
Hamlin compared it to the moment that Tony Stewart left Gibbs to join Haas Automotive Racing to form Stewart-Haas Racing -- immediately taking a mid-pack organization to the front of the field.
"Tony brought winning and relevance to that team, and all of a sudden, very good people started to want to work for them," Hamlin said. "They started to build. Next thing you know, they've got a championship and race winning organization a few years later. So that's, that's where I see this going for us."