There’s no way around it. Bubba Wallace has struggled in his first NASCAR Cup Series season with the newly formed 23XI Racing Team. Through a dozen races, Wallace has yet to crack the top 15 in a single race. Team co-owner Denny Hamlin recently addressed the No. 23 team’s early-season struggles and what he expected from the team moving forward.
On Sunday, Wallace heard a brief but similar message from a driver outside of his own team but someone who has a powerful voice in the Toyota Racing family. Martin Truex Jr., who won at Darlington for his third win of the season, delivered a concise message mid-race over the radio that included one word of the four-letter variety.
Bubba Wallace struggles to start 2021 season
Most racing pundits expected Bubba Wallace and the 23XI Racing Team to experience some growing pains during their first season. It has, without question, had more than its share of challenges.
The No. 23 car hasn’t posted a single top-15 finish through the first 12 races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Wallace’s best finish has been 16th, and he’s done it on three separate occasions at Phoenix, Atlanta, and Talladega. The highlight of the season was his first-ever stage win, achieved during Stage 2 at Talladega.
Interestingly, he’s not had any DNFs or finishes lower than 27th. All of it combined, Wallace’s average finish in 2021 is, appropriately enough, No. 21.
Denny Hamlin acknowledges struggles of No. 23 team
While Hamlin has been supportive of his driver throughout the season, there have been a couple of occasions where he’s openly expressed his frustrations with Wallace, including at Talladega when the 27-year-old driver did not manage the draft well or work with any of his Toyota teammates.
“The same thing happened at Daytona,” an upset Hamlin said over the radio.
Hamlin detailed in a recent interview why he thinks Wallace and the team haven’t been able to put any good runs together over a full race.
“You’ve got to just optimize your day. That’s something that team has not really done a great job throughout the year is finish where you’re running,” Hamlin said in an interview with Fox’s Bob Pockrass. “They’ve run inside the top 10 in three races and had a car capable of contending for a top 5, and mistakes take them out of it. I think they’ve really got to work on their execution. Bubba has to continue to evolve as a driver. Put the work in and concentrate on how he can do his job to the best of his ability. Use all of the tools that are at his disposal.”
Martin Truex Jr. fires warning shot at Bubba Wallace
During Sunday’s race at Darlington, Hamlin remained quiet about Wallace throughout the race. However, the same could not be said for Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., who not only won the race but is a member of the Toyota Racing family.
“You tell the #23, he better get his s*** together,” Truex said over his radio.
“Copy that,” Truex’s spotter, Drew Herring, replied.
First, Hamlin and now Truex has called out Wallace in the middle of a race. While emotions often run high during the race, Wallace and his team would be well-served if they started acting on some of the suggestions offered by two of the best drivers in the sport. Otherwise, the next time someone gets upset, it might not be someone from the Toyota team and they might opt not to deliver forceful words but a little tap on his car instead.