Wallace is ‘all ears’ learning from Hamlin for 23XI’s 2021 success

Not only does Bubba Wallace want to capture his first career NASCAR Cup Series win in 2021, he’s doubling down and shooting for two victories.

This is in a brand-new ride, too. Wallace piloted the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet for three full seasons and four part-time starts since joining the sport’s top level in 2017. Now, he’s introducing the No. 23 Toyota to the league with 23XI Racing’s debut.

“I feel like people are writing 23XI, two wins; if we don’t get that, we need to close up our shop,” Wallace said Tuesday during a virtual Media Day on Zoom. “That’s not the case at all. That’s a personal goal for me. Knowing the success of Toyota and the success with JGR, there is a lot more opportunity than I’ve had in recent years to go out and compete.”

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JGR comes into play because 23XI has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, meaning the Toyota stalwart will share resources with the new organization. JGR is a Cup Series powerhouse, boasting five championships over three decades of competition. Its winningest driver in 2020, Denny Hamlin, is actually a co-owner of 23XI, paired with NBA legend Michael Jordan.

Hamlin will still race his No. 11 JGR Toyota in 2021, and surely years to follow after a recent extension, as he’s still chasing that elusive championship title after 16 years of full-time effort. He won seven races last season and finished fourth in the final standings.

Wallace, meanwhile, ended up with one top-five finish, five top-10 runs and 22nd-place in the final standings.

“I’m all ears,” Wallace said. “Got the notebook ready to see what there is to offer.”

So, even though Wallace and Hamlin will be competing against each other this year, they also have a working driver-owner relationship.

“Denny told me at the beginning of this deal that if something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to go to him no matter the circumstances,” Wallace said. “I’ll make sure to have that lifeline in my back pocket if things aren’t necessarily going to plan for whatever reason. But I don’t expect that to happen. I think we have the right people in the right place to make our program a success from the front office to our guys in the shop, then our road crew to our pit crew.”

Wallace doesn’t expect to hop in his new car and immediately knock out wins. From prior experience, he knows better than to put that kind of pressure on himself – he did drive for Richard Petty, “The King” after all. Instead, Wallace is going to go out there and simply race the best he can in each event, starting with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14 (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM).

Though, it is worth noting the closest Wallace has ever come to taking a checkered flag was at Daytona International Speedway. He was .26 seconds short of winning the 2018 season opener. Hamlin, who won the next two Daytona 500s back to back, was behind him in third, proving the two really will battle for position on track.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity,” Wallace said. “I don’t know if I’ve said it enough. This is what I’ve been wanting for so long: to go out and try to prove a point.

“Hey, I belong.”