Michael Jordan said before the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season started that he expected Bubba Wallace and the 23XI Racing Team to win a couple of times. Halfway through the season, Wallace has yet to earn a top-10 finish, much less a win.
Despite those first-season struggles, which most expected, Wallace will have company in the form of a new teammate in 2022. And according to a new report, former Cup Series champion Kurt Busch will be racing with Wallace under the 23XI Racing umbrella next year.
Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing struggling in first season
When Denny Hamlin and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan announced the formation of 23XI Racing and Bubba Wallace as the first driver, most pundits knew it would take time to work out the kinks and get things rolling in the right direction.
Jordan, unsurprisingly, operated with a much more ambitious approach from the start and said as much during an interview with Fox before the season-opening race at the Daytona 500.
“I feel like he’s going to learn how to win,” Jordan said of Wallace. “He’s got the talent. We would have not invested in him and picked him if he didn’t have the talent to win. By the end of the year, I think he’s going to have an opportunity and probably will win at least a couple of races. If it’s more, I’ll be elated.”
Through 14 races, Wallace has six top-20 finishes, including a season-best 11th at Dover. He’s finished 25th or worse on six occasions, including his worst race of the year, an early exit, and a 39th-place finish at a rainy Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Bubba Wallace will have teammate at 23XI Racing in 2022
Since the beginning, Hamlin made it clear he planned to grow 23XI Racing into a multi-car operation. The three-time Daytona 500 champion has watched Wallace, and the team encounter its share of challenges this first season and offered constructive criticism on more than a few occasions.
Despite those first-year hurdles, Hamlin continues to move forward with the bigger plan. According to a new report in The Athletic, 23XI Racing will add a second team for Hamlin to oversee starting in 2022.
“Still working on some things,” Hamlin said on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Obviously, there’s a lot of moving pieces that have to go into it. I think we’re still progressing, just don’t have a timetable for it.”
Kurt Busch recently confirmed returning in 2022
The Athletic also reported that Kurt Busch has emerged as the leading candidate to join as Bubba Wallace’s 23XI Racing teammate. Busch is in the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Many have wondered whether Busch would even be racing beyond 2021 since the 2004 Cup Series champion released a video before the season talking about retirement. However, this last week, Busch shot down any rumors of his retirement on Twitter.
Oddly enough, he responded to a fake NASCAR Twitter account that indicated he had announced his retirement, effective after the 2021 season. Busch replied with a scene from the movie The Wolf of Wall Street with his face superimposed over Matt Damon’s where he says, “I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving. I’m not f***ing leaving!”
With the latest news, it’s apparent Busch isn’t leaving and, in fact, plans on staying and giving it a shot with another up-and-coming team. For Bubba Wallace, it’s a win-win situation because it’s an opportunity to work closely with someone who has won a title and someone who can take away some of the focus and pressure of driving for such a high-profile team.