Hamlin feels strongly that both 23XI cars are playoff caliber in 2023

23XI Racing debuted in the NASCAR Cup Series two years ago. By the end of the season, the single car venture was victorious with Bubba Wallace in Talladega. A short time later, they grew to a two car outfit and brought over Kurt Busch. Each car found victory lane in 2022 with a season sweep of Kansas – Busch in May and Wallace in the Fall.

Unfortunately, Wallace’s win came as a non playoff participant in the postseason while Busch didn’t get to use his win due to an injury suffered last July at Pocono. He hasn’t raced since. As a result, Wallace slid over to replace Busch in the 45 car during the playoffs while Ty Gibbs was promoted from the NASCAR Xfinity Series to drive Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota.

Busch announced last Fall that he wouldn’t come back on a full-time basis in 2023. While he didn’t rule out a return at some point, it would be part-time at best. So, 23XI needed a replacement and looked no further than Tyler Reddick, for whom they had already announced earlier last year that would join the team in 2024. Why not start now?

Enter this week. The 2023 season embarks. Wallace is back in his familiar 23 ride while Reddick is in the No. 45 Toyota. Wallace has won twice in the last two years, Reddick won three times alone in 2022 for RCR. That has the goals lofty for the upcoming season.

“As far as expectations, both making the Playoffs is a reasonable goal,” said team owner Denny Hamlin. “Bubba (Wallace) will have to take a little bit of a jump to do that, but certainly the performance he had at the end of last year kind of showed what his potential is so I think both making the Playoffs. Then if they can make it into the Round of 12 and keep going then that’s going to be a pretty successful year for us. The difference in year one to now is just more employees, and certainly in the growing and building stage. Just a lot more team chemistry. We did have a very small group in year one and year two. We’ve continued to build on that each year, but really it’s just continuing to get better. I know it’s a cliché thing, but want to continue to see us move up in the standings and our drivers win more races. We won one in year one, two in year two so want to keep seeing that growth.”

Wallace’s growth was noticeable. He had four Top-10 finishes over the final 10 weeks. The Alabama native only had six in the opening 26 races, however, four of those came in the final seven races of the regular season marking 8 Top-10-finishes over the final 17 races, half of which belonging in the top five.

“I would say this is the most excited I’ve been for a season to start just because of the momentum we have and all the changes we’ve made in the offseason,” Wallace said. “It’s shaping up to be hopefully our best year yet. We’ve been able to win the last two seasons, but at the wrong time. We didn’t win for the Playoffs and getting into the Playoffs, which our team is totally capable of doing now with people in the right place and mentalities now. The work efforts are there and I just need to go out and do my job and start this year off right. As much as this race is about bragging rights, the season starts today with practice and qualifying which shapes up everything. We can only hope now with the way that everything is structured with no practice or get practice, but it’s not like before where you could wholesale the car if you needed to. You hope to unload the car off the truck and it’s somewhat close so you can tinker with. It’s been fun working with Bootie and continue to grow with them and just push that leadership throughout our team.”

Reddick is equally as excited to join his new team. He already feels at home heading into this year’s 65th edition of Daytona Speedweeks.

“It’s been a huge one, but for everyone on the team side, everyone at Toyota has been really welcoming and inviting and really has made it feel like home very early on,” said the Corning, California native. “Certainly as it all is shaping out, this is earlier than we thought it was going to happen, but really glad the switch happened when it did. The team’s got a lot of exciting things and we’re growing at a great pace. The vision that the ownership group has, that Denny (Hamlin) has, from the driver’s point of view and everyone they have put into place around the team. I’m really excited about this year and what this year is going to mean for me and for Bubba (Wallace) and really everybody that’s a part of the organization.

“Yeah, it’s been a really good off-season. I stayed really busy and Bubba (Wallace) had a lot going on too on the personal side of things that he had to take care of. A lot of preparation so time really flew by from my perspective and we got a lot of things done. The team really got to spend time the right way working on things. Certainly, all of us as we were coming in here were beyond ready and chomping at the bit to get back on the race track. Really excited about it and where the gains were made. Felt like what we had in the simulator was really, really close so we’ll see.”

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