Has there been a team in recent memory to have more pressure on them in their first season than 23XI Racing? With high profile team owners like NASCAR superstar Denny Hamlin and all-time NBA great Michael Jordan, the pressure to win is high for all involved with 23XI Racing.
So far in 2021, the team has not gotten off to the start many folks expected them to. Driver Bubba Wallace currently sits 20th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings and is coming off a disappointing 26th-place finish at Richmond Raceway last weekend. The team has yet to record a top-15 finish and outside of the Daytona 500 has yet to really threaten for a victory.
That has led us to debate. Does a personnel change need to happen at 23XI Racing for the team’s performance to pick up and be a contender for race wins? Luken Glover and Clayton Caldwell debate whether it’s too soon for a major shakeup at 23XI Racing.
23XI is Experiencing Growing Pains
As mentioned, this is one of the most pressure-packed scenarios a new team has ever faced in NASCAR. A billionaire star basketball player has entered the waters of motorsports. A Cup veteran is finding his post-driving role. And a driver who has found himself in the spotlight numerous times over the past year is trying to prove his worth.
Most people likely expected 23XI to not hit home runs in the first few weeks. Top 20s and solid running position were key factors in getting this team afloat. But now we are a quarter into the 2021 season and there has been little noticeable progress. Automatically, that is going to raise questions. This team needs to be hitting singles and doubles, and so far it hasn’t really happened.
The first reason I don’t believe it is time to panic yet is because of team chemistry. Any transition in NASCAR, whether veteran or rookie, is going to take some time and effort to mesh. In this case, a group of employees were all thrown together and expected to communicate. It takes time for teams to gel. Just look at the No. 48 team at Hendrick Motorsports. There has been a lot of movement within that sole program and it has taken time for results to produce. The driver, crew chief, pit crew and shop crew all need to communicate in order to progress. That will come with time.
Now let’s take a look at a similar situation to compare it to. Take a look at Leavine Family Racing in 2019. No, LFR was not a new team and didn’t have a raw group of guys working together. It balances out, however, in that they did not have as much funding as 23XI and not as strong of a JGR alliance.
Matt DiBenedetto did not get his first top-15 finish until the eighth race of the season at Bristol. It was another five races before he got another one. In the first half of the season, DiBenedetto had four top 15s. In the second half, he increased that number to 10 top 15s, including that infamous near-win at Bristol. 23XI has more resources and a stronger JGR alliance to find these results quickly. It all comes down to the adaptation of the driver.
COVID-19 protocols also have to go into account. Team meetings have not been able to take place at a frequent pace as usual. There are only eight events with practice and qualifying this season. The lack of communication, especially for a brand new team, can cause a hindrance.
There have been bright spots in 2021 so far. Wallace had one of the fastest cars in his Duel race, and that translated over to the Daytona 500. At Phoenix, Wallace actually raced into the top 10 late in the race before a questionable pit strategy call relegated him to 16th. And at the Bristol Dirt Race, the No. 23 was on track to record a solid top-10 effort before late-race contact spoiled those plans.
At Martinsville, pit strategy allowed Wallace to lead a career-best 23 laps.
Those are races to build off of, now it’s time to get more consistent and finish races.
With all this being said, if we are still asking this question as the playoffs near, there should be a cause for concern. Realistically, it was very questionable whether 23XI could find victory lane this season. Even the second season may be a struggle. This team could very be suited more for the upcoming Next Gen car. However, it has been no secret how much promotion Wallace and 23XI have gotten on TV and in the news. There is only so much you can do off the track before results become the only focus. In the end, NASCAR is about racing and if results aren’t coming in, reason for concern is even more legitimate. 23XI has gotten big sponsors for their new venture. These teams are committed to Wallace, Hamlin and Jordan, but that trust has to grow. Other drivers are dying to get the same promotion that 23XI has received, and some are exceeding results.
It is not near time to hit the panic button on this team. Growing is a part of NASCAR, and it is especially true in this day and age. – Luken Glover
Not Just an Ordinary Race Team
The 23XI Racing team has gotten off to a rough start in 2021 and while the team is in their first season as an organization, I believe a change needs to be made.
This isn’t just your ordinary run of the mill organization. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in the history of the NBA (yeah, I said it), is co-owner of the team.
Jordan has been very vocal about his expectations for the organization. He made it clear that he wants to win and he did not become an owner in NASCAR to be a loser. While they haven’t gotten off to a dreadful start, it is clear that they lack the speed of a true championship contender. Certainly, MJ expected better.
Bubba Wallace currently sits 20th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. The best finish for the No. 23 Toyota this season has been 16th, which they have accomplished three times at Phoenix, Atlanta and Martinsville. The 20th-place points position doesn’t look as bad as the results have been and that’s because of the team’s performance in the first week of the season.
Wallace’s finish in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona gave him nine points. The Duels pay points to the top-10 finishers and Wallace finished runner-up in his race.
The No. 23 team has compiled just eight stage points in the eight races since the Daytona 500 and all of them came at Bristol. Daytona is Daytona and the success the team had there has not carried over to the rest of the season. Wallace’s average finish so far is 21.6, a half position lower than his average finish at Richard Petty Motorsports a year ago. RPM is a solo-car operation with limited funding. The team needs to be way better than that.
I know what you are going to say – they’re a new team and with every new team there will be some growing pains. I get it, but they’re not the only new team in 2021. With the resources the team has and the expectations set for this team, they should be the best new team in 2021. So far, that title belongs to Trackhouse Racing.
Trackhouse Racing has shown a ton of speed in 2021 and has two top-15 finishes, two more than 23XI Racing. They’ve also shown some consistent speed throughout the year. Trackhouse has an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. It’s not the same as having an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, which 23XI has. The alliance 23XI has is supposed to be similar to the relationship Furniture Row Racing had with the JGR a few years back.
Furniture Row Racing was a championship contender before the team closed its doors. So far 23XI has not picked up anywhere near where Furniture Row Racing left off.
The No. 23 car is 23rd in points earned since Daytona with 127 points. That’s nearly 30 points lower than what Trackhouse Racing and Daniel Suarez have earned since Daytona. Wallace’s former team, Richard Petty Motorsports with driver Erik Jones have earned more points since Daytona. As has Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. The 23XI team are only slightly ahead of Cole Custer and Aric Almirola in points since Daytona and both of those drivers have had miserable seasons so far.
That’s where the problem lies for me. If the organization had some speed through the first nine races and were just unlucky I would feel differently. That’s why I think a change in personnel needs to be made.
Joe Gibbs Racing, the team where 23XI gets a lot of their information from, has had a lot of speed so far in 2021. Christopher Bell has a win and Martin Truex Jr. has two victories. Denny Hamlin has been far and away the most consistent driver on the circuit and leads the points by a healthy margin. Kyle Busch has five top-10 finishes this season. That would mean to me that the equipment 23XI is getting from JGR is winnable equipment and it should provide 23XI with all the resources they need to be successful.
The eight races after Daytona have been a major disappointment. That’s why I think the team would benefit from a crew chief change or some other change in key personnel on the team. Think of the expectations to start the 2021 season and ask if they have come close to those. It is clear they have not. – Clayton Caldwell