Shortly after the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season ended – and with it, his time at Richard Petty Motorsports – Bubba Wallace went on a road trip with his girlfriend and his dog.
But even as he relaxed, the biggest chance of his career was not far from his mind.
The chance to drive for both one of NASCAR’s biggest stars and an icon in basketball and pop culture.
The chance to drive without having to worry about sponsorship dollars.
The chance to drive with the sole focus of winning races, week in and week out.
Next season, Wallace, 27, will drive for 23XI Racing, a new team co-owned by fellow Cup driver Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
Already aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing, 23XI revealed a stacked sponsorship lineup Monday to back Wallace and his No. 23 Toyota, which will be fully funded for its first season on track.
And when the calendar turns to 2021, Wallace’s mindset will turn to making it all pay off.
“It’s Dec. 14 right now, so it’s 17 more days until Jan. 1 – that’s when my new motto of ‘No More Excuses’ starts,” Wallace said on a Monday video teleconference with reporters.
“So, for 17 more days, I’m gonna have every excuse in the book. But after that, there’s no more excuses why we can’t run up front and compete for wins and show the true talents that I believe I have … If Jan. 1 was (the Daytona 500), then I’m ready for it.”
— 23XI Racing (@23XIRacing) December 14, 2020
Shortly after saying that, one of his new bosses quickly jumped in.
“We’re not ready yet,” Hamlin said with a laugh.
While Wallace is raring to go, Hamlin and the organization’s interim president, Steve Lauletta, have been building 23XI daily since its formation was announced in September.
With Hamlin chasing a Cup championship this past fall, he relied on Lauletta, the former president of Chip Ganassi Racing for more than a decade, to lay the groundwork for the organization.
The help has been invaluable to Hamlin, who says his level of concern has dropped from “probably an eight-and-a-half out of 10” a month ago to “like a five, maybe four-and-a-half” now.
“(Lauletta) created a great priority list of what we needed to work on now, what we could defer, and essentially, him and his group have done a phenomenal job of getting that done and easing my anxiety,” Hamlin said.
“Trust me, I’ll be the first one to call him or text him at 10 o’clock at night and ask for some kind of update. But he’s always got the right answer, it seems.”
Hamlin, who expects 23XI’s first car to be delivered in early January, said he also is receiving late-night correspondence himself.
“I got a text actually from a couple of team guys who were at the shop at 10:40 last night,” he said.
“(They were) waxing the floors, painting the walls. They’re just really working hard on making sure this team’s ready once that first car gets there.”
From Lauletta’s perspective, his own anxiety has stemmed from inevitably forgetting something during the rapid build for 23XI toward its February debut at the Daytona 500.
“The major buckets of things we need to address have either all been addressed or are in the process of being addressed,” he said. “But for me, personally, it’s that couple of things where at some point, I’m going to go, ‘Aw, heck, how did we forget that?’ and then we’re behind.
“The challenges when you start building a team on Oct. 1 is that the window of fixing things and adjusting things is so, so small. If you were able to have a few more weeks to work on everything, it would’ve been that much easier. But we’re dealing with what we have.”
Even so, he said the process of building 23XI “couldn’t have been any smoother as of now” thanks to the help from all involved.
“Now, it’s just trying to get to Daytona and make sure it stays on the same path.”