Why Is Bubba Wallace Replacing Kurt Busch in the No. 45 Car for the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs?

Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch drive the only two cars at 23XI Racing. This year has been a solid one between the two drivers, with the 2004 Cup champion winning a race at Kansas while the 28-year-old has had a couple of runner-ups. 

Since the team’s formation, Wallace has driven the No. 23 car. Busch came in this year and has been behind the wheel of the No. 45 until a concussion sidelined him at Pocono. However, starting this weekend at Darlington and for the rest of the season, Wallace will drive the No. 45 car. Why?

Bubba Wallace posted solid numbers in two years at 23XI Racing

Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch fist bump
Bubba Wallace (R) and Kurt Busch fist bump on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 04, 2022. | Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Since Bubba Wallace strapped in for the first time behind the No. 23 car last year, co-owner Denny Hamlin has consistently repeated the team has one goal in mind — improvement. 

In Wallace’s first year, he drove to three top-10 finishes, including a win in the fall at Talladega. This season, the driver hasn’t made his way to Victory Lane, but he’s undoubtedly improved on his first year with the team.

Things didn’t start great for the No. 23 team but have steadily improved throughout the year. Through 26 races, Wallace has recorded six top-10 finishes, which is a marked improvement over the year before, and included one four-race stretch in July and August where he scored four in a row, including three top 5s.   

Bubba Wallace replacing Kurt Busch in No. 45 car

This season Wallace welcomed a new teammate in veteran driver Kurt Busch. The 44-year-old came in and impressed, earning a couple of top-5s in the first five races. In May, he made his first trip to Victory Lane in the No. 45 at Kansas and qualified for the playoffs. 

Unfortunately, in July, Busch’s season came to a halt when he sustained a concussion during qualifying at Pocono. Busch has been out of the car since with Ty Gibbs serving as a substitute. 

Several weeks ago, with his return unknown, Busch dropped the medical waiver that would have allowed him to return to the playoffs. That move also ended his chance at the Driver’s Championship. 

However, this week, with the playoffs starting at Darlington, the team announced that Bubba Wallace would be switching car numbers for the final 10 races of the season to best position the No. 45 car for a shot at the Owner’s Championship.

Ty Gibbs driving No. 23 car for rest of 2022

With Wallace replacing Busch in the No. 45 car, Ty Gibbs will switch over to the No. 23 car. For Gibbs, this is the perfect opportunity to get some quality time in the seat and prepare for a run at full-time Cup racing in 2023. 

While there hasn’t been any official word announced about the 19-year-old running in the Cup Series next year, all signs seem to be pointing to him driving either the No. 18 car for Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing or possibly the No. 45 if Kurt is unable to return. 

In six races, Gibbs has proven he’s more than ready to make the jump up from the Xfinity, scoring four top-20 finishes, including a 10th-place run at Michigan.

The Cup Series playoffs should be entertaining with the 16 drivers battling for the title. It will also be interesting for the two 23XI Racing cars to see just how far Wallace can go with the No. 45 in pursuit of the Owner’s Championship and just how much improvement Gibbs makes in the season’s final 10 races.

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