The number Bubba Wallace would drive next year was a foregone conclusion.
The rest of the details concerning the new NASCAR Cup Series team launched by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin last month are starting to trickle in.
The outfit will be called 23XI Racing, pronounced Twenty-Three Eleven, and reflects the most prominent numbers associated with both investors. The manufacturer, team alliances and crew chief could be revealed as early as next week.
"We just kicked around a lot of different ideas and names and logos and things like that," Hamlin said during a Friday video teleconference. "Some that were way out of the box, and some that (were) directly in the box and we kind of found somewhere in between.
"Roman numerals are something that he has in his other ventures, whether that be his golf course and the 23 is very iconic to him.
"It doesn’t matter if we are multiple cars down the road the 23 will always represent him. The 11 will always represent me. It has been my number my entire racing life, but I also wanted to be respectful of Joe Gibbs Racing and not actually have the number 11 in the logo, being that they have that number."
Those were the balances struck when working through the team’s identity, although, there was never any other car number under consideration.
"To us, it was a mere formality on that sense," Hamlin said. "We hadn’t talked about it for any other number. I just assumed that is what he would want, but obviously there were conversations between him, myself and Bubba (Wallace.) It just made the most sense for sure."
Hamlin has driven his entire NASCAR career for Joe Gibbs Racing and the racer has relied heavily on his boss, mentor and friend on what steps he should take early in this process. Gibbs launched his Cup team in 1992 and has since won five championships.
"I will lean on every asset that I have and one of those is Joe Gibbs, Coy (Gibbs), the engineers at JGR," Hamlin said. "I’m picking their brain on where this sport is going and what do I need to be prepared for going forward, so yeah, I’m using all of the assets that I’ve got."
Hamlin says his vision includes an independent race shop, "a world class facility, where I want to go to work," and says Jordan feels the same way.
Of course, with just one year remaining with the current generation race car, 23XI Racing will have to begin as a satellite operation around another contender. That means the team will initially operate out of another shop, which allows Hamlin time to recruit the people needed to operate independently with the Next-Gen car.
"I’ve been on the phone with several teams talking about … I eventually want to build a race shop, so I’m getting all of those notes together," Hamlin said. "What will the new car bring, what departments will I need, that whole process.
"JGR is a huge asset to getting us ready. Our team is a little different than some of those out there, the alliance that are running out of their race shop, it’s essentially just another car of theirs.
"This is an independent team. This team is doing its own thing. We want to do it the right way. I have big goals for this team. I want by middle of next year people from top organizations saying I want to go work there. That team is up and coming, and that team is growing."
And while Hamlin remains focused on winning races and a championship for Gibbs, he says the distraction is actually welcome in keeping him focused.
"I’ll tell you regardless of the race team, I’ve been trying to find distractions for years in the Playoffs," Hamlin said. "I think that it’s a benefit to have distractions because you don’t overconsume yourself with what-ifs and you end up second guessing yourself. …
"If anything during the Playoffs, I try to golf more. I’ll just do anything I can to be normal, and I have time set aside each week to prepare and to get ready for an event and I don’t change from that. I don’t change anything that I do. So, if I have six hours of open time on a Wednesday that it’s not preparation time for me, I’ll work on the race team, or I’ll go golf, or I’ll go hang out with friends. … Distractions for me are a good thing, not a negative."
Lastly, Hamlin isn’t planning on retiring anytime soon.
"As my career ends, way down the line," Hamlin said. "Let me be clear on that."
This is Hamlin’s long-term project, but one that made the most sense to start now with Wallace becoming available in the prime of his career, and social justice front and center in the nation discourse.
Hamlin will eventually transition to a full-time leadership role at his new team, but says he has an impressive management team already in place that he intends to delegate to in the interim.
"I hope to do the same thing with this new team," Hamlin said. "I certainly see myself as working on this a couple of days a week, being in the meetings when I need to be in the meetings and delegating to the people that I have in charge, which is why I’m making sure that I have the right people in the right management positions to run this the correct way. They don’t need to check in with me with every little decision that they will make. I can trust them to be able to do that."