Bubba Wallace’s first campaign with first-year team 23XI Racing hasn’t quite had the results in its set-sail season that have dazzled on paper. The magic number right now seems to be 16, his finishing position in three of the eight NASCAR Cup Series races so far this year.
What has been encouraging has been the performance, leading laps in half those starts and finding some early chemistry with crew chief Mike Wheeler. As the 23XI organization sets its course for growth under the leadership of co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, Wallace has been emboldened by the early showings before the series’ next race, Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) at Richmond Raceway.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Wallace said during a Friday morning video conference with reporters, noting the team’s strides toward cracking the top 15 and landing its first top-10 finish. He starts 15th Sunday. “All cylinders are not firing at the same time, but we’re hitting all of them. They’re all kind of sporadic, so it’s like once we get that out and hit it together, there’s a lot of potential with this team, and I continue to say that. That’s one of the most exciting things is, ‘can it be this weekend?’ and that’s what you go into like, OK, we showed some highlights of success, we know what to build back on when we come back. Richmond’s going to be a good weekend. I can feel it.”
Even as 23XI Racing tries to find its way in the Cup Series, talk has centered around its potential for expansion. A move to a multi-car organization could sync with the introduction of the Next Gen car, which will make its competition debut next season.
As far as the timing or who a potential 23XI teammate might be under that scenario, Wallace smiled at the prospects before deferring to team leadership.
“Welp, that’s above my pay grade, both of those parts of that question,” Wallace said. “But no, I’m here to help advance the team each and every race and progress and get us to the next level each and every race. So whatever their time frame is, I’m a part of it and I hope to continue that growth for many years to come. Where we’re at, what we have going right now is something super solid and a really good foundation for us to continue to build and add new teams and new cars, new drivers. A matter of when, I don’t know. A matter of who, hey, that’s Denny. That’s Denny’s call there.”
As for the other part of the 23XI brass, Wallace said Jordan has been similarly encouraged by the start-up team’s early returns. The NBA legend’s ultra-competitive nature is well-documented, and Hamlin and Wallace each possess similar traits in their own realm.
Jordan’s basketball success was measured in scores of Chicago Bulls victories and several championships, but none of those came with immediacy. His new NASCAR team’s progress has also been gradual, and Wallace said 23XI’s famous co-owner has accepted that pace without adding any pressure on the driver to win.
“He understands motorsports a little different,” Wallace said. “He had a superbike team. You know you can’t win every race. Having Denny as co-owner there is managing expectations, and from the sounds of it, talking with Denny, we are exceeding expectations that they kind of had set in place before the season started. After our good runs, I’m getting a text from MJ saying, ‘Good job, kid.’ It’s stuff like that’s like, that’s pretty cool.
“He’s paying attention. Yeah, he knows we’re not winning, but he knows we’re continuing to make steps to make progress. It’s not something you just jump right into and expect to win. You’re living in fairy-tale land if you expect that to happen. Do we expect to win? Absolutely. But we have to do a lot of work in the meantime to get to that level. This sport is tough.”