TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ten months ago, Denny Hamlin stood in his team’s new race shop as 23XI Racing’s first car arrived.
Among the key issues to be dealt with that day: Getting the shop’s paint booth serviced and certified, and determining how many parts and pieces needed to be order for the team’s maiden season.
So, when the car came to the shop that day, there was little time to contemplate the significance of the moment before it was back to the many details that needed to be addressed.
When Wallace won Monday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway for his first victory and the first for the team, Hamlin felt a new emotion: Winning as a team owner.
“It’s going to take a minute,” Hamlin said of how he felt as he walked under an umbrella after NASCAR called Monday’s race because of rain. “It’s so much to process at this point. I’m not sure. This is going to be days’ worth of thoughts that will go through my head.”
It has been a whirlwind for Hamlin since he and Michael Jordan announced on Sept. 21, 2021 that they were forming a Cup team with Wallace as the driver.
“I knew it was going to be a process, but I maybe underestimated the process in which it takes to ultimately be a top-tier team and the time it takes to get all the (personnel) that you need,” Hamlin said Sunday morning at Talladega Superspeedway.
That process includes expanding 23XI Racing to a second car for the 2022 season. That meant hiring another driver (Kurt Busch), more personnel and acquiring a charter while also putting in plans to build a shop that will allow the organization to expand to four cars someday.
“It’s such a tough balance of trying to figure out how you can be fast and competitive and still run a legitimate business,” Hamlin last weekend. “That’s the tough part.”
The best parts, though, come with winning.
That’s what Jordan sought when he partnered with Hamlin.
“My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go … around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th,’” Jordan told NBC Sports and Fox Sports in an exclusive interview in September 2020.
“I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.”
Monday, Jordan got to celebrate his first win as a car owner.
“He’s as excited as I am,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Even though I probably do most of the work on the ownership side, he’s emotionally invested in this team as much as I am.
“This would not be possible without him. This would not be possible without the support of Toyota. There’s so many different people that said ‘Okay, you want to do this? All right, we’re going to stand behind you.’
“That to me is what makes it so gratifying, is that when you have crazy dreams and you want to build something, that you have people that believe in your vision.”
Much work remains.
“We’re still again in the building stage,” Hamlin said after watching Wallace celebrate the win. “We’re still in the growing stages of our team.
“This is just a huge morale boost, a huge confidence boost for Bubba. There’s a lot of positives that will come out of this that will linger for a very, very long time.”
There will be those who say that a NASCAR playoff race should never end early.
They weren’t bothered by the notion.
“I think it’s the same as every week,” Bowman said. “Any week of the year it can be expected by stuff like this (rain in the forecast). That’s just what we’re faced with (Sunday).
“I don’t think it’s any different than a regular season race being impacted by it. It would be tough to see the championship race impacted like that. That’s a hard position. Obviously, we can’t race in the rain. Just part of it.”
Last year, the Texas Cup playoff race was started on a Sunday and finished on a Wednesday because of persistent rain.
“Nobody wants to be here until Wednesday or Thursday like we were at Texas last year,” Bowman said. “At some point, there’s only so much you can do with a weather situation that you’re given.”
Said Byron of his thoughts about a playoff race ending early: “I don’t really worry about it too much. You’re always kind of a ticking time bomb at Talladega, so I feel like you just race every lap as hard as you can.”
Byron finished 36th at Talladega and Bowman was 38th. They both head to Sunday’s Cup playoff cutoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC) outside the cutline.
Byron is 44 points from the cutline. Bowman is 52 points from the cutline. Both, essentially, are in a must-win situation to advance to the next round.
Talladega became the first NASCAR track to have three first-time national series winners in the same weekend.
There had been three different first-time winners on the same weekend previously, but those were split among two tracks. Never had it happened at the same track until this past weekend.
Tate Fogleman scored his first career win in Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Brandon Brown won his first Xfinity Series race Saturday. Bubba Wallace completed the sweep of new winners with his first career Cup victory Monday.
The last time there were three different first-time series winners on the same weekend (but at different tracks) was August 2016. Michael McDowell won the Xfinity race at Road America. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race at Michigan. Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Michigan.