The recent struggles of Denny Hamlin’s two cars at 23XI Racing is “agitating” and “not acceptable” for the team co-owner.
Hamlin won last weekend at Richmond Raceway for Joe Gibbs Racing while his two cars finished outside the top 25. A loose wheel late in the race doomed Bubba Wallace and he finished 26th. A fuel pump issue for Kurt Busch eight laps into the race sent him to the garage for repairs and a long day logging laps to a 35th place finish.
“[We’re] just trying to stop the bleeding there,” Hamlin said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “I said earlier this week: The win was really exciting until you get out of the car and look down at the pylon and say, ‘What the [expletive]? What’s going on?’ It’s agitating because it’s different things on different teams. But it’s just a two-week slump that we got to get out of. We’re trying to address all the issues that there [are].
“The 23 car pit crew is not doing well. I’m in a meeting with Joe Gibbs Racing, and I thank them for everything they do for me, and then we walk out of that meeting into another, and I’m cussing them out for just not doing a good enough job over there.”
Wallace also had a loose wheel at Circuit of the Americas. But that wheel came off his Toyota and resulted in a four-race suspension for three of his team members. At Richmond, Wallace felt something wrong early enough to pit before the worst-case scenario.
Wallace’s average finish is 20.7 after seven races. He has one top-10 finish – second place in the season-opening Daytona 500.
“We went out for [fiancé] Amanda’s birthday on the 30th and ran into Stephen Parsons and he’s in a situation where he’s constantly having to grind and be there and run all the laps and he asked me, ‘Man, how do you keep showing up?’ I was like, man, it’s easy for me to look at it this way — it’s not about the money; It’s about the opportunity and being here. And yes, you are getting paid to do this stuff and you have to show up every week, but that’s the exciting part.
“Alright, we’ve gotten kicked in the teeth for the last five weeks – Daytona was really good – but every weekend is a new opportunity and you sit there on the grid before the race, and it’s like, one of these guys is going to win. And that’s cool as [expletive] because you’re a part of that group. Then you go out and compete and whatever happens, happens. If it was good, then great. If it was bad, well, we got next week to try it.”
Wallace briefly paused and quipped: “Until they get tired of my stuff and kick me out. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
Martinsville has been good to Wallace in the past. The Virginia short tack is where Wallace won his first Camping World Truck Series race.
“I think this is the weekend to look at where we can shine and start to claw our way back,” said Wallace.
While Wallace hopes things get cleaned up, there is no reason to be mad if he does everything under his control. Wallace “has a strong team,” and it’s a matter of executing.
As for Busch, the issue last weekend was a freak thing, according to Hamlin.
“Hopefully we look back on this two months from now and say it’s just a little bump in the road because it’s certainly not acceptable by any means,” he said.
Busch felt what happened last weekend could have happened to anyone. He wouldn’t say it was typical of a new team because of the variables of the new car, short practices, and a team not being able to dig into the weekend like in years past with much more time.
Busch’s average finish is 16.4, with three top-five finishes and eight laps led.
“I look at it as, all right, drivers [are] allowed to mess up once, pit crew can mess up once; You can have a mechanical gremlin,” Busch said of his season. “We’re done with all those now so we definitely have to put together nice consistent runs in practice, stages and race finishes. We’ve been through a lot already as a new team with top fives, laps led, mechanical problems – we’re checking off the boxes.”