On paper, 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing Team have a lot in common.
Both are NASCAR Cup Series teams that came into existence with the start of the 2021 season.
Both are co-owned by a combination of a former/current NASCAR driver (Denny Hamlin / Justin Marks) and an internationally famous celebrity (NBA legend Michael Jordan / Pitbull).
Both have similar goals of changing NASCAR for the better — or as Marks likes to say, being “disruptors” — via diversity efforts and their team culture.
And as of Sunday’s (May 15) race at Kansas Speedway, won by Kurt Busch and 23XI Racing’s No. 45 team, both now have two Cup Series victories on their scorecards.
So of course it would be easy to want to compare the two.
However, just as when Marks dispelled the notion that Trackhouse measures itself against the accomplishments of its predecessor, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hamlin does the same for comparisons of the sophomore teams.
“Justin Marks, I talk to him weekly,” Hamlin said Sunday. “(The teams are) not built the same. …
“We are very similar in our vision, and I admire Justin as much as I admire Joe (Gibbs), honestly. That’s truly what I think of him. Again, that’s why I talk to him so regularly because we are — generally, if you look at our cars, you look at the way our teams dress, we’re different. We try to be a little bit edgier than the norm.
“My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) even said today, you can tell (what’s) a Trackhouse car and a 23XI car because the way you brand things and you’re different. I said, ‘That’s a huge compliment, so thank you.’”
While similar, the team’s origin stories are very different.
Trackhouse started as an unofficial third team at Richard Childress Racing in 2021. Then it bought out Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation, moved into its headquarters in Concord, North Carolina, and continues to employ 105-110 people that worked for Ganassi.
In some ways, 23XI Racing is considered an offshoot of Joe Gibbs Racing. But the team is still being constructed “from scratch” in the words of Hamlin.
“(Trackhouse is) kicking ass. I’m jealous of how they perform each and every week,” Hamlin said. “But they had (110) employees that they hired overnight, right, and they were already working together. It’s person-by-person with us, which is why it’s going to take five years.”
The five years Hamlin mentioned is his goal for how long it will to take shape 23XI into a championship-contending team.
“We’re at year 1.3. This is really, really early,” Hamlin said. “I can’t emphasize enough, we had to build from the ground up and we are still continuing to build, so it’s a long process. It’s hard to come out here and compete and beat some of these organizations that have been around for 30 years. It’s just nearly impossible, obviously.”
Hamlin said his main focus concerning 23XI Racing’s future has been “on infrastructure and long-term planning.”
He leaves week-to-week decision to Busch’s crew chief Billy Scott and Bubba Wallace‘s crew chief Bootie Barker, Dave Rogers, and competition director Mike Wheeler.
Hamlin’s long-term activities include the ongoing hiring process. He credited co-owner Michael Jordan for being “lock in step with me with everything. To have the trust and some of the outlandish decisions and hires that I want to make and how I want to build this team, I mean, I can’t do it without his support.”
Hamlin used the Jordan Brand, which was a primary sponsor on a 23XI Racing car for the first time Sunday on Busch’s No. 45 Toyota, as a window into how the team is approaching not only adding new employees to the young team, but its marketing strategy as well.
“Obviously, they sat on the sidelines for the first year of this team,” Hamlin said. “They said, ‘We just want to see how it goes and see how the NASCAR fans welcome us.’ … The Jordan Brand itself, we’re trying to get to a younger demographic.”
Based on the engagement of this post, I’d say give it to the people.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) May 16, 2022
“We are a very, very diverse team. I’m looking at potential hires right now that we’ve got on the board. There’s England, Brazil, and Israel, the next three hires. We’re all over the place right now. … Certainly it’s important to give opportunities to those that never thought racing was a job; a place that they could have a job opportunity.
“We’ve seen it on pit road quite a bit. I think you have seen diversity on pit road. A lot of these guys are college D1 athletes, but what about marketing? What about mechanics? I’m on the NASCAR Diversity Council, and we talk all the time about how can we change this sport. It starts from the ground roots. …
“Because the field in which we try to hire we always want the best candidate, but a lot of times they’re not trained in what we’re looking for. So we have to get them trained super early. That’s why we had The Speed Institute at 23XI where we have scholarships. We have internships.
“I’m certainly proud of what we’ve done and how we’ve built this team, and you see the diversity we have on our team. It’s great, and it shows that there’s a lot of capable people putting race-winning cars on the race track, and you don’t have to look a certain way to do it.”
Even then, hiring isn’t easy. Especially when it comes to securing employees who are instrumental in putting the Next Gen car together on a week-to-week basis.
“We have a very tough schedule,” Hamlin said Saturday (May 14) at Kansas. “We’re the longest sports (season), all that’s been documented. But with supply chain issues, you have to wait for parts to come in. Sometimes they don’t come in until 6 o’clock at night and then you have to work all night to get ready to ship out on the hauler the next day.
“It is very difficult to get people in the building right now simply for quality of life versus pay reasons.”
It has obviously not been an easy road for Hamlin and 23XI Racing. But Sundays like the one in Kansas City have provided Hamlin with the validation for the team’s effort.
“There’s been many times that I’m, like, ‘golly, I should have just bought a race team lock, stock, and barrel, because this is a pain in the ass starting from scratch,’” Hamlin said. “But I don’t know why, it just gives me more appreciation and gratitude on days like this.”
2022 is Daniel McFadin’s ninth year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his second year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can also be found at SpeedSport.com. And you can hear more from him on his podcast.
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