NASCAR: Hamlin “so-so” on progression of Wallace, 23XI Racing

ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN - JULY 03: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America on July 03, 2021 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/23XI Racing via Getty Images)

As the NASCAR Cup Series approaches the final third of the 2021 season, 23XI Racing is in a bit of an interesting place. Bubba Wallace, Denny Hamlin, and Michael Jordan have put in a lot of work to form a new team with Wallace as the driver, and they’ve shown hints of success. However, the results aren’t quite as strong as the organization wants.

“I’m looking at the finishes and they are trending downward,” Hamlin said prior to Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen. “I want to get those guys more competitive”.

Wallace has gone through a season of highs and lows with this recent summer stretch being one of the lows. He has just one top-15 in four starts since picking up his first top-5 of the year at Pocono in June. Wallace was riding a stretch of five top-15s in seven races before a 24th place finish at Road America on July 4th began a streak of struggles.

“Our progress is continuing to build,” Wallace said. “Those guys are working hard, I’m giving them the feedback [from my experience in the] No. 43 car…..I’m excited to get to these tracks for a second time”.

Although the results aren’t there, Hamlin believes in the potential that Wallace has. Hamlin believes that it’s often the mental aspects of racing that weigh Wallace down and result in the major inconsistencies the No. 23 team has had in 2021.

“I think confidence is a big thing with [Wallace],” Hamlin. “He really hits highs and lows pretty often, [so] how can we keep him a little bit more steady with his motions and I think he’ll continue that trend in a good direction”.

In addition to confidence, crew chief Mike Wheeler believes that some of the inconsistencies are coming from Wallace’s adjustment to a new team and a new manufacturer.

“Getting Bubba adjusted to a JGR/Toyota car, there’s a lot of things every [at] track you go to that he isn’t comfortable with,” Wheeler said. “Some guys can figure it out, other guys have to go testing to see what things need to be changed. We’re obviously limited with the pandemic and cost reductions for lack of practice and testing, so that’s been one of those things that have been a slow mover. We’ve been pretty well prepared from what we were going to face, it was just a matter of going to do it”.

With three races left in the Cup Series season, Wallace sits 21st in points. He’s 190 points outside the playoff cutline, meaning Wallace needs a victory to qualify for the playoffs. Although a win might not seem likely, the final 13 races of the 2021 season could serve as a lower-pressure environment for Wallace to gain momentum into the 2022 season.

“It’s really time to jumpstart our season now and finish off on a strong note,” Wallace said.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Sunday at the Indianapolis Road Course.