Denny Hamlin has known for some time that he would run a business of some kind after hanging up the helmet. He just didn’t know what it would look like until recently. Now the three-time Daytona 500 winner is in the middle of setting up NASCAR Cup Series team 23XI Racing with friend and NBA legend Michael Jordan, which took another step Friday with the announcement of their manufacturer and team alliance.
“This is something that I’m going to be very, very passionate about, very hands-on,” said Hamlin.
“I’ve seen the success that my boss (Joe Gibbs) has had and how hard he works at it to be successful, and it’s going to be more than a hobby for me. It’s going to be my day job one day, and I want to be the guy that’s at the shop just like Joe is at eight o’clock every morning calling sponsors, calling manufacturers, walking down and talking to the employees trying to figure out how to make our race cars go faster.
“This is exciting for me because I’ve seen my future now. This is something that is going to be around for a very long time, and I’m excited about the partners that we have just in our first year.”
Through the partnership with Toyota, the team will receive engines, technology, data, and technical assistance. Chassis will be purchased from Joe Gibbs Racing.
“They’re (Toyota) in the business of winning and winning championships, so I want to be able to contribute to that,” said Hamlin. “I’m way too competitive, and anybody that knows me knows that I don’t do anything just halfway, I make sure I do it the right way, and I’m trying to do that right from year one. It will take time.
“Ultimately, to build this into the organization like Joe Gibbs Racing, it takes a lot of time. So, have to patient as far as that’s concerned, but I believe we’re putting the best team that’s possibly available on the racetrack in year one. I’m pretty confident we’re going to have the parts and the pieces we need to do it. My vision is well beyond just a one-car team, and hopefully, we can execute and continue to grow year after year.”
From Toyota’s standpoint, the new team offers a way to expand its footprint in the Cup Series while helping Hamlin realize his dream for the future. It is also a reunion with Wallace, who drove a Toyota early in his career and in the Truck Series, plus a chance for him to showcase his skills in what will be “some world-class equipment,” according to Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Division Marketing at Toyota Motor North America.
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said supplying engines is an obvious part of the relationship, “but certainly our support goes well beyond that. I think with this team, with Denny and Michael trying to get their feet underneath them, particularly for this first year, it’s going to even be more critical. This is something that Denny and I talked about as this plan was formulating, and again, it gives TRD a great opportunity to wade in there and help this young team get their feet settled.”
All involved have high hopes and expectations going forward. Toyota envisions Hamlin and Jordan can grow their team into a championship team. Hamlin wants the same, and the process begins next season.
“Realistically, we want to contend for race wins,” said Hamlin. “That will be the first obstacle, is show that we can run top-five and then contend from there. I don’t think I have a specific number goal, whether it be a point finish or race wins or top fives or top 10s, I just want to see that we’re competitive. And if we’re not, you’ve got an insider such as myself at Joe Gibbs Racing that knows what it takes to be competitive, so that’s a little bit of an advantage that this race team will have.
“I see this a lot like what Tony (Stewart) did with Stewart-Haas. That organization kind of ran middle to back of the pack for most of the time, and when he came over there, he brought winning and relevance to it. All of a sudden, very good people wanted to work for it, and it started to build, and next thing you know, they’ve got a championship and race-winning organization just a few years later. That’s where I see this going for us.”
The role of crew chief will be served by Mike Wheeler, who won five races with Hamlin between 2016 and 2018, and worked with Matt DiBenedetto last season at Leavine Family Racing. Wheeler has been LFR’s competition direction this season.
23XI Racing will operate out of a shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, owned by Germain Racing. It is where Germain was located before moving to the Richard Childress campus to be closer to its alliance partner. According to Hamlin, the aim is to expand to a multi-car program “as soon as possible.”