Prior to the 2021 Cup Series season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin partnered with NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan to form a new NASCAR team. 23XI Racing and Bubba Wallace have yet to crack the top 15, but Hamlin has seen some positive signs through the first 10 races. Though he wants the team to “optimize their day.”
Hamlin graded the young team on Friday while meeting with media members. He explained that Wallace has lots of raw speed that helps him race near the front of the pack and on restarts, but he also makes some mistakes that lead to finishes outside the top 20. Now Hamlin wants Wallace to continue to evolve as a driver while the team eliminates mistakes.
“Finish where you are running,” Hamlin told media members, per Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass. “They’ve run inside the top 10 in two races and have had a car capable of contending for top-five. Mistakes take them out of it. They’ve really got to work on their execution.”
Wallace will have to make strides as a driver
The former Richard Petty Motorsports driver has 122 Cup Series starts to his name, as well as three top-five finishes and nine top-10s. However, Wallace has yet to win a race in his Cup Series career after reaching Victory Lane six times in the Truck Series.
Hamlin knows that his young driver still has strides to make before he regularly wins races. He explained that Wallace has at least 10 years less experience than he does at this point, so he is working to share some knowledge and make the 27-year-old better behind the wheel.
“I think that Bubba has to continue to evolve as a driver and really concentrate on how he can do his job to the best of his abilities,” Hamlin continued. “Use all of the tools that are at his disposal. We’re working on it — I think it’s going to get better — but for them to be 30 points out of the playoffs and finishing where they are finishing, that should be a big wake-up call to say, ‘just do our jobs.'”
Hamlin previously said that he wants to see gradual improvement
Prior to the Daytona 500, Hamlin, Wallace, and Jordan sat down with Michael Strahan of Fox Sports to discuss the team’s inaugural season. The two owners laid out their expectations for Wallace and the No. 23 Toyota Camry while expressing optimism about the 2021 schedule. Jordan said that Wallace could win at least a couple of races during the season, but Hamlin simply said that he wanted to see gradual improvement.
“The barrier has been kind of set where we are at in the spring,” Hamlin said. “I talked about it earlier in the year. I want to be running better in the summer than they were in the spring. Better in the fall than they were in the summer. This is a building process that we are putting together.”
Wallace nearly posted a strong finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, but he became one of several drivers to crash on the final turn of the final lap, ending his day in the 17th position. Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski set off an incident while fighting for position, sparking a chain reaction. Wallace, Kyle Busch, and Austin Cindric all crashed while Michael McDowell raced to the checkered flag.
Wallace has continued to push for improvement during the 2021 season while dealing with some mechanical issues. Other times, staying out on the track instead of going to pit road for new tires led to Wallace sliding to the middle of the pack while other drivers raced past. While he has yet to crack the top-15, he does have three 16th-place finishes so far.