A few weeks ago, Denny Hamlin expressed approval for his two-car 23XI Racing team and their four top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series’ first five races. By all conceivable metrics, the team showed significant improvement over their 2021 debut when Bubba Wallace didn’t score a top-10 until the month of June. Furthermore, considering Toyota’s overall struggles to begin the 2022 season, the 23XI team actually looked like the OEM’s bright spot headed into COTA last month.
“The trouble is, [23XI] kind of goes as Joe Gibbs Racing goes,” Denny Hamlin told reporters. “That’s the unfortunate part is that when they struggle with their simulation or whatever, we’re going to struggle with ours. So we’re kind of going as they go right now. I’m actually decently happy with 23XI’s performance, given the struggles of our speed.”
Three races and a string of mediocre finishes later, Hamlin made it clear that his opinions of the team he co-owns with Michael Jordan have changed dramatically.
“Just trying to stop the bleeding there,” Hamlin commented, according to Sportscasting.com. “The win (last week) was really exciting until you get out of the car and you look down the pylon and say, ‘What the f***?’ What’s going on? It’s agitating, and it’s different things on different teams. It’s just a two-week slump we got to get out of. We’re trying to address all the issues that there is. The No. 23 pit crew is not doing well.”
Hamlin also said that he hopes the recent slump — both Wallace and new teammate Kurt Busch failed to finish even top-20 at COTA or Richmond — is “just a little bump” in the road.
Denny Hamlin clearly wants to motivate his 23XI team, but other crews seem to believe that NASCAR needs to shoulder some blame for the recent Next Gen malfunctions
Longtime crew chief Cliff Daniels, who heads up Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick, spoke candidly about loose wheels and NASCAR’s suspension program. Bubba Wallace famously lost a wheel at COTA a few weeks ago, leading to a massive four-race suspension for three members of his crew.
“I hate that I’m going to have to say it but it’s the truth. The razor-thin line that we’re on right now from having a fast pit stop and having a potential issue is smaller than it has ever been,” Daniels said. “And believe it or not, there is more complexity and nuance in the single-lug pit stop than there was in the five-lug pit stop.
“I would say that NASCAR needs to step up, and NASCAR needs to improve the pit guns. NASCAR needs to improve the stuff that we’re using.”
Daniels also offered his opinions on the new penalty system.
“If something fails or something doesn’t go according to plan, we’re then going to make it an even bigger safety issue? We’re going to suspend those guys for four weeks that are the best experts that that team has at the time to put on their car? … [And then] we’re going to bring in two guys that are less experienced to go pit the car and do the same thing? That itself just doesn’t make sense.”