23XI Racing Is On the Verge of a Major Breakthrough
Co-owners Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan started 23XI Racing only two years ago and have already built it into a two-car operation with a legitimate chance to be strong contenders in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
The organization placed both of its entries in the top five Monday in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and 23XI is already only one top-five shy of tying the 10 combined top-fives Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch produced for the organization in 2022 when the company first expanded to two cars.
23XI Racing began as a one-car team with Bubba Wallace in 2021
Wallace was the lone 23XI driver for the organization’s inaugural season in 2021, and he produced respectable results in the No. 23 Toyota for a start-up race team. He notched his first career Cup Series victory in the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway and finished 21st in the points standings.
Busch joined the organization in 2022 and scored the first victory for the No. 45 car in May of that season at Kansas Speedway. He was in position to make the playoffs in July as the playoffs approached, but he suffered a head injury in a qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway and missed the rest of the season.
Wallace, meanwhile, missed the playoffs but still had a career-best season that included a win in the September race at Kansas after the playoffs had begun. He finished the year with a career-high five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s, along with his first career pole award in August at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch retired after the 2022 season, opening a spot for former Richard Childress Racing driver Tyler Reddick. 23XI announced it had signed Reddick in July, but the original deal had Reddick slated to move to the Toyota-backed organization for the 2024 season because he still had a year left on his contract with RCR.
23XI eventually bought out the remaining year on the deal and slid Reddick into the No. 45 seat a year early, while RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8 Chevrolet.
Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace have 23XI Racing consistently running up front
Those moves have proven worthwhile for 23XI, which has six combined top-fives across the last four points-paying races and has had at least one driver finish inside the top five in each of those four events.
Reddick won the March race at the Circuit of the Americas and currently sits seventh in the points standings after a fifth-place run Monday at Charlotte. Wallace placed fourth at Charlotte and has finished inside the top five in a career-best three consecutive races, which has moved him up to 15th in the points standings and in position to grab one of the 16 playoff spots.
23XI technically made its first playoff appearance a year ago because the No. 45 car was still eligible for the owners’ championship even though Busch was unable to compete for the drivers’ title. The organization gave Wallace the No. 45 for the playoffs so he could compete for the owners’ title. His Kansas victory advanced the No. 45 to the second round, but three straight finishes of 16th or worse ended that team’s chance at any end-of-season hardware.
The organization is now positioned to have multiple drivers reach the playoffs for the first time in its short history, and both could be a factor well beyond the first round.
Both drivers have strengths at key tracks on the schedule
Reddick, 27, has developed into one of the more versatile drivers in the series since he debuted in 2019. He has three road-course victories, two top-five finishes in the three dirt track races at Bristol Motor Speedway, and has finished inside the top 10 in nearly half of his 60 starts on intermediate tracks between 1.0-2.0 miles in length. The short tracks of Bristol and Martinsville Speedway could be his undoing, however. He has only two top 10s in 11 combined Cup Series starts at those facilities.
Wallace, 29, is most adept at intermediate tracks and superspeedways. Half of his 12 top-five finishes since he joined 23XI in 2021 have come at intermediate tracks of 1.0-2.0 miles, and he is one of the best superspeedway drivers currently in the sport. He has three finishes of first or second at superspeedways since 2021, and his 16.2 career average finishing position at those types of tracks ranks second among active drivers to only Austin Cindric’s 14.0 mark among drivers with at least three starts.
Those skills could come in handy with the regular-season finale scheduled for Aug. 26 at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega on tap as the second race in the Round of 12 portion of the playoffs.
23XI has made incredible strides in only three years of competition and is now in position to legitimately challenge the other elite organizations in the series for the sport’s biggest prizes.