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23XI to Ford: Hot Air or Actually Realistic?

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If there is anything to say about this NASCAR Silly Season, it’s to expect the unexpected. Well, another unexpected rumor is going around with 23XI Racing reportedly meeting with a new manufacturer, Ford, according to Lee Spencer of catchfence.com. Is this actually realistic, or is it just hot air? Well, let’s take a look at the complicated reality of Denny Hamlin and 23XI’s free agency.

Denny Hamlin and 23XI Racing’s, Complicated Free Agent Status

Denny Hamlin’s re-signing with Joe Gibbs Racing seemed to be a foregone conclusion. From Hamlin’s perspective, it’s the Cup Series team he has spent his entire career with, and Gibbs is one of the top car owners in the sport. From Gibbs’s perspective, Hamlin is a proven race winner with sponsor backing, and he is going to remain that way for at least a few more years.

In a perfect world, this would seem like an easy decision on both sides. However, a contract has still not been signed, and we have now hit the week of the regular season finale. Publicly, both Hamlin and Gibbs have said that they desire to stay together.

Eric Estepp highlighted in a recent Out of the Groove a clip from “Actions Detrimental” where Hamlin admitted that, “We’ve Got to Make Some Moves”. He also admitted that there has been no major movement between all sides.

This is the first time that Hamlin or someone associated with Hamlin has reportedly met with an entity other than Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. With Hamlin being an owner of 23XI Racing, whatever happens with Hamlin in free agency will affect 23XI. Hamlin went into detail about how these three come together on “Actions Detrimental”

Hamlin mentioned that the contracts between Hamlin and JGR, JGR and 23XI’s alliance, and 23XI’s contract with Toyota are all up. That is what Hamlin says has complicated everything, and that if it was just a contract between JGR and Hamlin, “This deal would be done”. Hamlin also talked about how he is considering 23XI in the future.

It’s easy to look into the short term and say, ‘He’s offering me good money again. Let’s keep this thing going, I’ve got a great thing going. All that.’ I think that I always have to look out for the financial future of the race team. I mean, it’s what I’m gonna do after I’m done racing.

Denny Hamlin

23XI Racing and Hamlin are a package deal. With that being said, Hamlin still expressed confidence that a deal would be struck, but a meeting still reportedly happened. Why would that meeting occur and what could that meeting mean?

Why Would 23XI Meet with Ford, and What Does it Mean?

Quite frankly, it’s simple due diligence. If the deal is taking longer than Hamlin or 23XI wants to for whatever reason, it’s a good idea to look elsewhere and see what other options there are.

Some would say this contradicts what has been said publicly by all parties, but multiple things can be true. It can be true that Hamlin, 23XI, JGR, and Toyota all want to stay together, but it can also be true, especially in a complicated deal like this, that something could hold it up for whatever reason. It’s all a matter of business at the end of the day.

It’s not uncommon in business for two parties to have an interest in working together, but, later realize that it just is not feasible. This is not to say that this is what is happening between everyone in this scenario currently, but it does show what could be happening.

23XI meeting with Ford could have ended a bunch of different ways. It could have ended with 23XI telling Ford that they are committed to Toyota first, and they will consider joining Ford if and only if that Toyota deal falls through. It could have been the beginning of the two sides hammering out a contract, but, public comments would contradict that.

It could also be a leverage pull for Hamlin and 23XI. He could tell JGR and Toyota in negotiations that if they do not re-sign, then he could just go to 23XI, drive for his own team, and switch manufacturers. Hamlin has a lot of assets in these negotiations, and that makes him different from just an ordinary driver. It could mean that Hamlin is realizing that the deal he wants done between all three parties will not happen, and he may need to move on.

It could mean many different things, but it is definitely odd. It is the biggest step towards a move away from Toyota and JGR that Hamlin and 23XI Racing have made. However, no deal was signed, so it could mean absolutely nothing.

There is also the factor of where Hamlin go in 2024 if he does not re-sign with Gibbs. Does Hamlin move to 23XI without a charter, does he retire, or does he re-sign with an open Ford team like potentially the 10 car at Stewart-Haas Racing?

To answer the question posed earlier, 23XI Racing to Ford definitely seems like a possibility, but it may not be a probability. A lot still needs to happen, but, the longer and longer that 23XI and Hamlin go without signing with Toyota, the more likely that a drastic move becomes.

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Joshua Lipowski

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