Last season was a breakout year for the newcomers in NASCAR 23XI racing, in just one season they had full sponsorship for all their races, had a new driver that was the face of the team, and they scored their first win as a team at Talladega. This doesn’t mean that the team did not struggle in their first season but, with an owner in Denny Hamlin who knows how the world of NASCAR works and an owner in Michael Jordan who at the very least brings hype and funding, this team was better off than most in their first few years.
2022 was supposed to be the year they finally became contenders. Adding a veteran driver in Kurt Busch, expanding the shop, and a new crew chief for Bubba, this team was looking all set. Second place at Daytona was almost as perfect of a start that the team could have asked for but for the #23 teams it has been all downhill from there. A team with something to prove has seemingly fallen short in every aspect of the competition. These woes become highlighted when their teammates in the #45 cars driven by Kurt Busch have had an above average season and are out performing their teammates by a good margin. So if Kurt can run inside the top 15 constantly and occasionally break into the top 10 and win contention, where is it going wrong for Bubba and his team?
One of the new changes to this team was on top of the box changing from Mike Wheeler (Wheels) and signing Bootie Barker to call the shots for the 2022 season and there seems to be a massive disconnect within the whole team. After Bristol this past week there was a video that came from the team’s onboard camera where it showed the team talking about how the water temperatures were rising and there was nothing done to stop it from the whole team. This is not the first time the crew has ruined a good run for Wallace, loose wheels, slow pit stops, and poor strategy choices have been the bane of the team’s existence from the start and a year later not much has seemed to change. A new crew Chief is usually looked at as the start of change on a team that most of the time changes the issues that were around before they stepped up.
Another massive issue in the team is sadly, the driver. Wallace has fallen short many times this season and while the car is not great and the crew not holding their own, the driver still has to step up and do their part, and Wallace has not. The issue is not entirely equipment because Kurt Busch, who is in the later parts of his career, is not what he once was, and is still running very well and contending for wins. Wallace as a driver is, at least in my opinion, painfully average outside of the Super Speedway tracks where he is an exceptional driver. But to be successful in NASCAR you need more myriad skills as a driver than ever before. Road racing, short track racing and the cookie cutters still dominate the schedule and drivers that can’t succeed there cannot be serious contenders. For this team to be successful with Bubba as the face, he needs to dial in his own driving and step up and some of the issues will be fixed and the team will improve greatly.
The real surprising part of all of this is that Denny Hamlin has been very quiet about the whole situation. When someone who speaks out as much as he does you would think that they would be saying more, but Hamlin’s silence speaks volumes. Could this be a sign that Denny is facing reality that this team may need to take a new direction in the coming season should things not get better? Could a solution to this team be a complete overhaul next year and getting rid of the system they have in place that has not worked out so far? Could Hamlin and MJ be expecting too much from the team? The #23 team has a lot of work to do to become contenders this year and get to where they know they can be as a team.