Today’s 23XI Racing preview starts NASCAR.com’s countdown of team previews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, starting with new chartered teams then ranked in reverse order of best finish in last year’s owner standings.
Engine: Toyota Racing Development
Driver-crew chief pairings: Bubba Wallace-Mike Wheeler (No. 23)
What’s new: All of it. This brand-spanking-new team for the 2021 season is the result of collaboration between NBA legend Michael Jordan and longtime friend Denny Hamlin, who explores team ownership for the first time in his long NASCAR career. Bubba Wallace has been tapped as the driver of the No. 23 Toyota, with veteran Mike Wheeler — a former crew chief for Hamlin — atop the pit box. Primary sponsorships — some from existing backers and others from newly forged partnerships — have been sold for the entire schedule.
Team outlook: Ever since the team’s Cup Series plans were officially announced Sept. 21, the race has been on to prepare for next month’s debut at Daytona International Speedway. Some degree of first-year jitters should be expected, but 23XI won’t lack support. The full fleet of sponsorship — for the team’s on- and off-track impact — is a positive bellwether, and an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing should help establish the team’s footing on the technical side. Time will tell just how strong that JGR affiliation will be.
Racing Insights stats break: Bubba Wallace comes off a career year after finishing 22nd in points thanks to five top-10 finishes (had only four in his career before) and enters 2021 with a streak of three straight seasons with a top-five finish. Wallace has veteran crew chief Mike Wheeler, who has five wins, including a 2016 Daytona 500 victory with Denny Hamlin. Wallace’s best Cup finish is second in the 2018 Daytona 500.
Bubba Wallace, No. 23 Toyota
Experience: Fourth full season in NASCAR Cup Series
2020 stats: 22nd in final standings; 0 wins, 1 top five, 5 top 10s.
2020 final Fantasy Live ranking: 22nd
2021 championship odds: 50-1
Outlook: Without ever turning a lap, 23XI pegged the star-power wattage meter at the moment of inception, with Michael Jordan’s international renown sparking a flurry of headlines and coverage. The spotlight’s glow may be even brighter on Wallace this season, on the heels of an eventful 2020 when he became a more vocal advocate for racial equality. On the track, Wallace’s performance will likely be predicated on how quickly the newborn organization can find its place among more established competition. He has won multiple times over in the Camping World Truck Series ranks but is still aiming for the consistency needed to make that leap in the Cup Series.
NASCAR.com 2021 team previews schedule
Jan. 18: 23XI Racing
Jan. 19: Trackhouse Racing Team
Jan. 20: Live Fast Motorsports
Jan. 21: Spire Motorsports
Jan. 22: JTG Daugherty Racing
Jan. 25: Front Row Motorsports
Jan. 26: Richard Petty Motorsports
Jan. 27: Roush Fenway Racing
Jan. 28: Wood Brothers Racing
Jan. 29: Richard Childress Racing
Jan. 30: Non-chartered and teams outside the top 30
Feb. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing
Feb. 2: Stewart-Haas Racing
Feb. 3: Joe Gibbs Racing
Feb. 4: Team Penske
Feb. 5: Hendrick Motorsports