23XI Racing have expanded to a two-car operation for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. But will this move hurt current driver Bubba Wallace?
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season has come and gone, and many rumors about the driver lineup for the 2022 season have already come to fruition.
Among the more notable rumors to emerge and ultimately be confirmed is that 23XI Racing will be expanding from one full-time car to two full-time cars for next year.
Team co-owner Denny Hamlin has had his eyes on expanding the operation even before the 2021 season, the team’s first season competing in the sport, began back in February, and he indicated all along that he had no plans to change that vision.
Hamlin had discussed adding either an established veteran to 23XI Racing’s driver lineup to pair with Bubba Wallace, this year’s driver of the #23 Toyota, or perhaps a young Toyota driver to give Toyota a team to place their youngsters for further development.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch, of course, fits the description of the former, and it was announced last week that he is set to join Wallace at 23XI Racing behind the wheel of the #45 Toyota.
Trackhouse Racing Team announced that they will acquire the two-car Chip Ganassi Racing team after the 2021 season and that Daniel Suarez will continue to drive the #99 Chevrolet, leaving just one seat open. That seat went to current Chip Ganassi Racing driver Ross Chastain, effectively indicating that Busch would be on his way to 23XI Racing.
The whole idea behind expansion is to give 23XI Racing additional resources to continue their improvement and lessen the growing pains so that they can ultimately field multiple competitive entries for drivers capable of winning races for years to come.
But could this end up hurting Wallace?
Having the opportunity to learn from a veteran teammate and former champion in the twilight of his career certainly has the potential to be a huge positive for the 27-year-old Mobile, Alabama native.
However, Wallace’s performance would need to be reflected by that development. And with that expansion set to happen after only a single season, it will pretty much need to be reflected immediately.
23XI Racing have made evident strides throughout the 2021 season; the speed is there for them to compete for decent results.
But so far, Wallace’s results don’t represent that progress, and it has been tough to gauge where both he and the team are truly at after their first 26 races together.
He had a top three car in the first races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, even winning his first career stage at the latter, and he tied his career-high finish with a second place finish in the second race at the former. However, on only one other occasion has he managed to finish inside the top 10 so far this year.
To compare, through the first 26 races of last season, he had five top 10 finishes behind the wheel of the #43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports. But this season, he still sits in 21st place in the point standings with an average finish of 19.2, both of which would be career-highs if that’s where he ends up when the season concludes.
So what would it look like if a teammate, especially somebody such as the experienced and talented Busch, joins 23XI Racing and immediately outperforms Wallace?
We’ve all heard the “we don’t sign checks for losers” quote from team co-owner Michael Jordan, and we’re reminded of it every time something doesn’t go Wallace’s way on the race track.
It’s obviously far too early to declare Wallace’s stint with the team a failure, but expansion after only one season, a season that has been chock full of growing pains, would effectively force him to start producing at a much higher level, especially if his new teammate ends up being able to come in and outperform him straight away.
On the flip side, if Wallace gets a teammate and is able to perform at his level or above it while improving upon his 2021 performance, it would be a major boost for him in his second season driving for 23XI Racing, especially since that teammate is set to be a former champion in Busch, whose win at Atlanta Motor Speedway back in July shows that he clearly still has what it takes to get the job done.
And that’s the scenario that the Joe Gibbs Racing-affiliated team are ultimately hoping to see play out with expansion officially on the horizon for 2022.
Wallace is clearly a part of their long-term vision, whereas Busch would likely be replaced by a young gun after a handful of seasons, if that. So knowing exactly what they have in Wallace and in overall team performance after two years would be massive as they move forward and continue to make strides.