Denny Hamlin and most experts expected 23XI Racing to improve in 2022 as a two-car team with 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch joining Bubba Wallace. The second-year team fared well through the first five races, including a combined four top-10 performances.
Before Sunday’s first road course race of the year at Circuit of the Americas, the three-time Daytona 500 winner talked with reporters and provided a favorable early-season assessment of the team he co-owns with Michael Jordan. Then, both drivers managed to go out and record their worst finishes of the season.
23XI Racing has improved on last year’s early-season performance
Denny Hamlin only had a single car to focus on in 2021 during the first year of 23XI Racing. He watched Bubba Wallace struggle in the season’s first five races, failing to manage any top-15 finishes. He didn’t crack the top 15 until mid-May at Dover.
This year, Wallace promptly put aside any concerns of repeating a slow start in 2022 by finishing runner-up at the Daytona 500. He’s added another top-15 result, finishing 13th at Atlanta.
Kurt Busch has come aboard and been as good as advertised. In the first five races, the Cup champion only had one finish outside of the top 15. He’s scored three top 10s, including a pair of top 5s, fifth at Phoenix and third at Atlanta.
Denny Hamlin happy with 23XI’s performance to start 2022
This past weekend before racing on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn layout in Texas, Hamlin talked with reporters and provided an assessment of his 23XI Racing team’s early-season performance.
“The trouble is we kind of go as JGR goes,” Hamlin said, referring to the struggles of all the Toyotas at Joe Gibbs Racing. “That’s the unfortunate part is that when they struggle with their simulation or whatever, we’re going to struggle with ours. So we’re kind of going as they go right now. I’m actually decently happy with 23XI’s performance, given the struggles of our speed.”
Disastrous finish at COTA
As Denny Hamlin mentioned, JGR hasn’t posted the expected numbers for the organization with the new car in 2022. Through five races last year, the organization had recorded a pair of wins, plus 10 top-10 finishes. This year, JGR is winless in that same time with eight top-10 results.
On Sunday in Austin, Hamlin had one of his best races of the year, winning a stage and finishing 18th. Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. ran well and both finished in the top 10. Kyle Busch was the lone struggler. He finished 28th.
Interestingly, Busch’s poor finish was considerably better than the two cars at 23XI. Wallace exited early with a loose wheel and finished second-from-last in 38th. Kurt Busch also had his worst performance of the season and finished 32nd.
“Rough day. Confusing day. Frustrating day. We just missed something…,” Busch tweeted after the race.
Hamlin knows 23XI Racing is going to have its ups and downs. One of those downs came this past weekend in the Lone Star State, ironically on a course known for its dramatic elevation changes. It’s a matter of minimizing those low points and maximizing those moments when running well. Based on the early returns, even with the disastrous finishes at COTA, the second-year team is headed in the right direction.