Denny Hamlin understood his partnership with Michael Jordan to start a new race team for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season included its own set of responsibilities and challenges. The 23XI Racing Team and driver Bubba Wallace have undoubtedly endured their share of struggles through the first half of the season, not managing a top-15 finish before Sunday’s race at Dover.
While Wallace earned an 11th place finish, his best of the season, Hamlin was none too pleased with the No. 23 team during the race and let his crew know about it over the radio in a profanity-laced message. All of it should make for a very interesting week at team headquarters.
Denny Hamlin not happy with Bubba Wallace at Talladega
Since Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan announced the formation of the 23XI Racing Team late last year, Hamlin has maintained his top priority would be piloting the No. 11 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Through 13 starts, driving clearly appears to be Hamlin’s focus, with nine top-5 finishes. Despite that overall success, victories have been elusive, and the three-time Daytona 500 winner has been frustrated more than a few times for his inability to get to victory lane.
At Talladega, Hamlin’s owner side came through when he expressed his frustration with Wallace, who had one of the fastest cars on the track but appeared to have no interest in working with any of his Toyota teammates.
“The same thing happened at Daytona,” Hamlin said over his radio, referring to Wallace’s willingness to fly solo on another superspeedway where the formula for success typically includes multiple cars working together.
Hamlin addresses 23XI Racing Team struggles
Despite Hamlin’s frustration with Wallace at Talladega, he was also happy for his driver, who won the first stage of his career. Those mixed results encapsulate the season for Wallace and the No. 23 team. Hamlin revealed as much during an interview with Fox’s Bob Pockrass:
“You’ve got to just optimize your day. That’s something that team has not really done a great job throughout the year is finish where you’re running. They’ve run inside the top 10 in three races and had a car capable of contending for a top 5, and mistakes take them out of it. I think they’ve really got to work on their execution. Bubba has to continue to evolve as a driver. Put the work in and concentrate on how he can do his job to the best of his ability. Use all of the tools that are at his disposal.”
If Wallace and the team do that, Hamlin said he believes the team can meet the expectations set at the start of the year:
“For them to be 30 points out of the playoffs and finishing where they’re finishing, that should be a big wake-up call to say just do our jobs. Everyone does their jobs to the best of their ability, they’ll be fine and they’ll continue to get better each week. The barrier has been kind of set where we’re at in the spring. I talked about earlier in the year — we want to be running better in the summer than they were in the spring. Better in the fall than where they were in the summer. This is a building process that we’re putting together.”
Goes ballistic on Wallace & Co. at Dover
With just over 80 laps to go at the Monster Mile in Dover, Hamlin and a large group of cars opted to pit while another group, including Wallace, remained out. When the pit stops ended, Hamlin found himself in ninth position right behind Wallace. The Fox cameras focused on the racing between the No. 11 and 23 cars with a view from the rear bumper of Wallace’s car peering back at Hamlin chasing.
Despite the fresher tires, Hamlin had trouble passing and, on several occasions, inched up to Wallace’s rear bumper, only to fade back. Up in the broadcast booth, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer talked about the situation.
“When I saw Denny Hamlin get to the rear bumper of Bubba Wallace I thought that was going to get Bubba pretty loose going into turn one,” Gordon said.
“You’re not going to wreck your own car,” Bowyer interjected.
“I know he’s not going to wreck him, but I thought he was at least going to get him loose, maybe move him out of the way,” Gordon replied.
Inside the No. 11 car, Hamlin was fuming about the situation and pinned the blame on Wallace’s crew chief Mike Wheeler.
“”F***! Wheels. God damn it!” Hamlin said over his radio.
Despite yet another chapter of frustration for Hamlin, he eventually passed Wallace, finished seventh, and was left to wonder, once again, what might have been.