When the NASCAR Cup Series arrives at Daytona International Speedway in February, three new full-time teams will be hitting the track for the first time.
Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing, Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 99 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing Team and B.J. McLeod will drive the No. 78 Ford for Live Fast Motorsports.
It’s an exciting time for the sport as new owners and sponsors ready for the upcoming 2021 season, but which organization is the most intriguing? NASCAR.com’s Terrin Waack and Chase Wilhelm share their thoughts.
WILHELM: Well, since I go first, I’ll take the easy layup. All eyes will be on 23XI Racing, co-owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, when we unload the haulers at Daytona.
Bubba Wallace, driver of the new No. 23 Toyota, outperformed on a number of occasions with limited funding while driving the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. Now the sky is the limit.
Although the brand new team will surely have kinks to work out along the way, Wallace will be expected to perform at a higher level on a weekly basis sooner rather than later. With the star power Jordan brings, Hamlin’s prowess from what he’s learned at Joe Gibbs Racing and Wallace’s ability to get more out of a race car than what it might typically be capable of, this is quite possibly the beginning of something special.
What’s intriguing for me is how competitive Wallace and team will be out of the gate. When the Jordan brand is brought into the mix, success is probable — and expected. That puts added pressure on everyone involved.
Pressure, however, is something Wallace has become accustomed to after a 2020 season that launched him into the national spotlight, both on and off the race track. For that, I feel Wallace is ready for the task at hand. If the 23XI Racing team can put a fast car underneath him, it will finally be his moment to shine.
Wallace said there will be “no excuses” in 2021. Honestly, I don’t think he’ll need any.
WAACK: Yes, I’ll admit, a Michael Jordan-owned team is beyond exciting for the sport. Exciting being the key word there. I, however, am more intrigued by the Trackhouse Racing Team addition to the NASCAR Cup Series. There are multiple industry veterans in charge of that team.
Trackhouse owner Justin Marks himself has competed in all three NASCAR national series. Marks won a 2016 Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which isn’t all that surprising considering his road-course background via sports-car racing. With seven road courses spread across the 2021 schedule — postseason included — Marks’ behind-the-wheel, left-and-right knowledge surely can help Trackhouse with those events.
Ty Norris was named the president of racing operations at Trackhouse. Norris used to serve as the executive vice president and general manager at both Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing. Behind-the-scenes experience: check.
Last but not least, four teams in four seasons? Trackhouse’s driver, Daniel Suarez, may have bopped around the garage in recent years, but he has to know by now what he does and does not like when it comes to organizational chemistry and dynamics. This is an absolutely clean slate for him. And though he’s still seeking his first Cup Series win, Suarez has had success in NASCAR. He holds eight top-five results at the sport’s top level, highlighted by a 2018 runner-up finish from the pole position at Pocono Raceway, where there’s a doubleheader this season. He also has three Xfinity Series victories on his resume, topped off by a championship title in 2016.
These Trackhouse folks may know what they’re doing.