The NASCAR Cup Series team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan has made another major personnel move. 23XI Racing promoted Mike Wheeler to director of competition, effective immediately, meaning that Bubba Wallace will have a new crew chief for the remainder of the season.
The race team made the announcement on Thursday, Sept. 16, confirming that Wheeler will oversee the expansion to a two-car team ahead of the 2022 season. He started the year as Wallace’s crew chief and as the director of competition, but he will shift his focus. Meanwhile, Robert “Bootie” Barker will step in as Wallace’s crew chief for the remaining eight races.
“Being a part of 23XI Racing from when it was just an idea, to seeing the plans come to life, securing our temporary shop and working to build this team has been an amazing opportunity and one I’m excited to continue as the team grows and expands,” Wheeler said in a press release.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to be back on the box this season with the No. 23 team and Bubba, but to be able to solely focus on the next steps it takes to expand to a multi-car team, build a new shop and get this team to where it’s in contention to win each and every week is exciting for me and I’m ready to give it my full attention as we finish this season and move in to 2022. Bootie (Barker) has been a great asset to 23XI Racing all season and with his experience, he was the right choice to step in and finish the 2021 season with Bubba and the No. 23 Toyota Camry team.”
Barker Is a Veteran Crew Chief Across Multiple Series
Wallace’s new crew chief joined 23XI Racing for the 2021 season. Now he will take on a different role starting with the Cup Series playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 18. When he partners with Wallace, he will bring a considerable amount of experience with him.
Barker has served as a crew chief across multiple series in stock car racing. He worked with Cup Series, Xfinity Series, Truck Series, and ARCA Series drivers. The list includes Michael Waltrip, Max Papis, Casey Mears, Johnny Sauter, and Ward Burton among others. Most recently, he partnered with Ty Dillon at Germain Racing for the 2017 season.
“Mike Wheeler (Wheels) has been a huge part of helping build 23XI Racing,” said 23XI President Steve Lauletta in a press release. “From day one, Wheels has helped put this team together, with a focus on the competition side. As we move towards 2022, it’s important for us to put the right people in place that help continue the growth of 23XI to the next level. As we finish out the 2021 season, this move allows Wheels to focus on our overall vision for 23XI and allow Bootie (Barker) to help Bubba and the No. 23 team finish strong over the final eight races.”
23XI Racing Has Made Multiple Moves for 2022
The Cup Series team continues to make moves in advance of the 2022 season. Adding Kurt Busch to the fold as the second driver was a major step for the future, but it was not the only one. 23XI Racing also found a permanent team president.
The race team announced on Sept. 8 that interim president Steve Lauletta would stick around for the foreseeable future. He would remove the “interim” from his title and become the official president of the organization. Lauletta had been in the role since the start of the organization after previously spending 10 years with Chip Ganassi Racing.
23XI Racing still has eight races remaining in the 2021 season, but the future plans are taking shape. The team will have the same personnel in place, but many key figures will fill different roles as Wallace and Busch team up to fight for spots in the playoffs.
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