When 23XI Racing was first introduced just prior to the 2021 NASCAR season, everyone knew there would be growing pains. Many in the industry, including the hosts of the Door, Bumper, Clear podcast, compared Denny Hamlin to Dale Earnhardt (meaning that Denny Hamlin is a cup series owner while driving for someone else, like Big E did), and so perhaps it was appropriate to do the same with 23XI and DEI.
The latter is most known for fielding the red No. 8 Budweiser car for Dale Earnhardt Jr. which he would compete in from the 2000 through the end of the 2007 seasons but DEI actually opened its doors as a full-time Cup Series operation in 1998 with driver of the No. 1 Penzoil car, Steve Park. He was the original driver for that team’s first three and a half seasons and it was a slow start.
During the 1998 season, Park got injured and was replaced by a handful of drivers, including Darrell Waltrip. Park didn’t exactly set the world on fire that year with his best finish being 11th at both Dover and Michigan. With that in mind, I and many fans weren’t expecting much from Bubba and the No. 23 crew – and they ran mid-pack most of the year.
That said, they were able to do something not even DEI could do in their first full-time year: win a race.
Though it was a rain-shortened event, Bubba Wallace’s first career win came at Talladega in 2021, a certain highlight on a fairly mediocre season. But hey, it was the learning curve.
The team would take a big step forward the following year by running more consistently in the top-10 and, with the addition of Kurt Busch in the No. 45 Monster Energy-sponsored Toyota, they swept both 2022 Kansas races.
Bubba Wallace would get two top-10s in the two races at the track in 2022, scoring a 10th place finish in the spring and the win that fall in the No. 45. With NASCAR returning to the sunflower state, we at the Daily Downforce thought it’d be fun to take a look at 23XI’s season so far. Check it out:
#23 Bubba Wallace
On paper, it would appear that Bubba Wallace’s year so far has been a regression rather than a step up in performance. With his best finish so far being a 4th place at Las Vegas, the third race of the season, his only other top-10 this season was a 9th place finish at Martinsville a few weeks back. Needless to say, his 2023 season thus far has been fairly unremarkable.
Unfortunately for Bubba, the buzziest thing he has done so far this year has been to say this line after an on track incident with Kyle Larson at COTA:
Stating that he needs to be replaced on national television isn’t a great look. The comment came after something in his No. 23 machine broke which led to him missing a corner and plowing into 2021 Cup Series Champion, Kyle Larson.
The fact that this clip is what most think of when they think about Wallace in 2023 is a considerable blemish on his year. He currently sits 21st in the NASCAR Cup Series standings with 1 top-5 finish, 2 top-10s, and 6 top-20s over a 10-race period. The No. 23 team has shown that they do have speed, it’s just putting a whole race together and avoiding mindless accidents seems to be their Achilles heel at the moment.
They’ll need to overcome this in order to get in this year’s highlight reel.
#45 Tyler Reddick
Meanwhile, there’s the other side of the coin with Tyler Reddick in the No. 45 car. They’ve shown similar speed as the No. 23 so far this year but have a few better statistics to back it up. So far on the season they have 1 win, 4 top-5s, 5 top-10s and currently sit 6th on the playoff grid. Not amazing stats but they have that one win a COTA and considerably more top-5s than the No. 23 car so they’re doing pretty well, all things considered.
The most important thing is that they’re virtually guaranteed a spot in the playoffs which will pay out more to the team at season’s end. The clear highlight on the year for Reddick so far is the win at COTA:
Kurt Busch, who drove the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing for much of 2022, got a little emotional as he called his old team’s first victory on the year. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Bonus: #67 Travis Pastrana
Though team co-owner, Denny Hamlin, seemed a little hesitant about expanding 23XI Racing to a 3-car and potentially 4-car operation, they did enter a 3rd car in the 2023 Daytona 500 driver by none other than Travis Pastrana.
In 500 Qualifying on a Thursday night, the No. 67 helmed by Pastrana along with Jimmie Johnson in his No. 84 were able to run fast enough lap times to make it into the big race the following Sunday. Keeping his nose clean, he was able to bring it home in the 11th position after a last-lap crash.
Only time will tell if 23XI will field a third car in the future.
As a team, 23XI Racing has shown some considerable speed throughout the year, especially on superspeedways. We at the Daily Downforce will continue to track their progress the rest of the year and see if they can make some improvements to become one of NASCAR’s top-contenders race-in and race-out.