What’s it like to build a Cup team from nothing? Ask 23XI’s Steve Lauletta
“If you would have told me that two years and seven races into the life of 23XI Racing that we would have had four wins across three different drivers, I would have told you that would be amazing if we could pull that off. And we have, and there is still a lot more to be done.”
That’s 23XI Racing President Steve Lauletta commenting on the current status of the third year NASCAR Cup organization. Brought out into the light during the summer of 2020 when word started bubbling up out of North Carolina that NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and Joe Gibbs Racing Cup driver Denny Hamlin were looking into owning a team, the program has been building momentum ever since.
Q: I was watching the final laps of Talladega on Sunday and 23XI Racing was right in the middle of everything. The team really looks like it is clicking.
STEVE LAULETTA: Well, I think we have continued the growth path that we have been on the first two seasons. And it hasn’t been easy because we’ve had to make moves along the way. Obviously, adding a second car and then having to do it with Kurt Busch, and then having to adjust with Kurt, and then having to adjust with Kurt being out of the car, and now bringing Tyler Reddick into the mix, it hasn’t been a consistent ability to build on it all.
That adds to what I’m really proud of with this team. There are things that are thrown at us that we’ve been able to adjust to and to keep the forward trajectory going. Getting that win at the Circuit of the Americas with Tyler, that was his first win for us and the first win for Toyota of the season, was excellent. It all feels like this five-year plan that Denny Hamlin set out that we have originally to be a championship-caliber team is moving along at a pace that we are all pleased with.
If you would have told me that two years and seven races into the life of 23XI Racing that we would have had four wins across three different drivers, I would have told you that would be amazing if we could pull that off. And we have, and there is still a lot more to be done. Consistently having fast cars and being in the mix is what puts you in that position. And the amount of work that everybody here at 23XI Racing puts into it week-in and week-out is just impressive to be around, and makes you really proud to be part of this team.
Q: It seems like the dynamic and cooperative effort between Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick aadd up to a really good balance of driving skill and talent and team cooperation. What do you think?
SL: Yeah, they get along great, and Kurt Busch is in the mix, too. He’s helping them week-in and week-out and understanding the two of them from his standpoint as a great leader who has experience to lean on. They all get along well and they’re talking all of the time, and the interaction between both teams is really, really strong. It’s proven. You saw Bubba qualify the highest he’s ever qualified at a road course at COTA, and then Tyler went out and dominated the race and that is because they were both working hard preparing for that race.
What Bubba can do at other tracks, Tyler will benefit from those exchanges of information. It does seem like we are operating as an organization instead of two individual teams is working from the drivers to the crew chiefs to everybody in the shop. With our partners, we are still talking about ‘Forward Together’ and that’s our partners and our team working as one because we’re more powerful that way. Individually, we are going to unveil a paint scheme soon that kind of brings that to life along with a little nod to Kurt and his involvement with the team. We are always trying to think of ways to bring the group together and then to have people outside feed off of what we are doing.
Wallace and Reddick are finding their groove as teammates. John Harrelson/Motorsport Images
Q: You’ve spoken about 23XI Racing being a “brand that happens to be a race team, not a race team brand.” The 23XI Racing team certainly seems to be adhering to this mantra.
SL: We are trying to. A lot of us have been in this business for a while, and when a clean sheet of paper called 23XI Racing allowed us to do it in a different way, we can take our experience and the things that we like and didn’t like and bring it all to a new place, and have an ownership group that lets us take some chances and to do things different and to push ourselves and say, “If every other team is going to the right, why don’t we go to the left and see what that’s like?”
That is what I try to push on every day. I want us to think of every way we can do something different than what is being done now. It may not benefit us. Hopefully some of the things we do come up will benefit us and it will give us that leap above everybody who are all kind of globbed together in the corner doing it the same way.
Q: And what a prism of sponsorship partners you guys have. It seems like a new 23XI Racing sponsorship announcement cones out each and every week.
SL: It’s not weekly. I wish it was weekly! Look, there are as many conversations that we have that we don’t pursue because it doesn’t fit our brand or it doesn’t fit with what we are trying to do with our other partners as there are partners that we announce. Earlier this year in one week we announced new partnerships with Wal-Mart and Xfinity. Those are two blue-chip, big brands. That’s the kind of relationships that we are trying to build.
When we look at The Beast coming on from Monster and being a brand-new product, and then looking at 23XI Racing and Tyler Reddick and saying, “Hey, why don’t you guys help us build this brand…” Those are things that make you proud and they get you excited, because they are opportunities that don’t come along very often, and when you’re tapped on the shoulder by a major organization like Monster Energy and some of the other major brands, you really put as much heart and soul into that off the racetrack as we do trying to win races on the racetrack. We are trying to show up and bring new fans to this sport and in order to do that, we have to reach into the areas that are maybe non-traditional and are putting the sport of NASCAR and 23XI Racing and our partners in places and in front of people that may not know what we are and what the sport is all about.
Q: Are you getting any feedback from NASCAR or other tams and entities involved in the sport?
SL: I think we’re being noticed. I think that’s a nice thing. Of course we work as close to NASCAR from a marketing perspective and from a marketing perspective that we can. We have a great relationship with McDonald’s and McDonald’s is going to be one of the premier partners of the Chicago street race. It’s their hometown market. We’ll work a lot on how to bring that to life in and around that brand-new street race. These things are the connections that we are always trying to foster and to make what we are doing have a bigger amplifier instead of just one person doing it at a time.
You know, I’m here at 23XI Racing because it’s fun. Every day has been a challenge and something different. We’ve got the new shop under construction and that will be a new piece of opportunity for us to engage fans and our partners with. We always want to take a step forward as an organization. There seems to always be something coming that makes it real exciting to see where this is going to go.