Did 23XI Racing take a huge risk in expanding to two cars for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season without the guarantee of a second charter?
It was never a big secret that Denny Hamlin wanted to expand the new NASCAR Cup Series team he co-owns with NBA legend Michael Jordan.
Even before 23XI Racing made their Cup Series debut at the start of the 2021 season, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver discussed wanting to expand from one car to two cars as soon as possible.
It was no surprise when, after months of speculation regarding a second driver, they confirmed in August that they would be expanding to a two-car effort for next year.
Bubba Wallace is set to return as the driver of the #23 Toyota for a second season while Kurt Busch is set to move from Chip Ganassi Racing, which have been acquired by Trackhouse Racing Team, to 23XI Racing to drive the #45 Toyota.
But one key topic that kept being brought up, even before this move was confirmed, was the charter market.
Charters are considered hot commodities, and for many good reasons. And for 2022, that importance is at an even greater high, given the desire that many teams have had to enter into or expand in the Cup Series with the Next Gen car slated to make its long awaited debut.
Hamlin was transparent in that the search for a charter was ongoing throughout this process and that there was nothing to announce when Busch was confirmed as Wallace’s first ever full-time Cup Series teammate for next year.
However, it later emerged that the team had been able to secure a charter for Busch’s entry for 2022, though no details were confirmed.
It had long been speculated that 23XI Racing would buy a second charter from Front Row Motorsports, which run two charters: one for the #34 Ford, which is driven by Michael McDowell, and another for the #38 Ford, which was driven by Anthony Alfredo in 2021.
The talks 23XI Racing had were indeed with Front Row Motorsports, but the deal ended up falling through. Front Row Motorsports are set to operate with two charters next year, just like they have this year, leaving 23XI Racing in search of a second.
So would not securing a charter before confirming Busch as their second driver for 2022 ultimately come back to haunt 23XI Racing?
Fortunately for them, we now know that they have indeed secured a second charter for 2022, purchasing StarCom Racing’s charter despite rumors that StarCom Racing would be selling their charter to Spire Motorsports after announcing that the 2021 season would be their last.
However, this was still somewhat risky.
We all know that Hamlin had been discussing expansion before the #23 Toyota even put a wheel on the race track back in February, so the go-to assumption here would be that this whole process was rushed.
However, long-term, it probably would not have hurt too badly, and for a number of reasons.
First of all, the search obviously wasn’t over when their first potential deal fell through. There was still plenty of time. While the limited supply of charters has driven up the prices and created an even bigger challenge than usual for potential buyers, there were still multiple charters out there which could have been dealt for 2022.
Plus, Hamlin had said many times that the plan was still to run two cars next year no matter what. So you almost had to assume that, at least for 2022, securing a charter would have been a bonus for 23XI Racing. It certainly was not a requirement.
And perhaps most importantly, it certainly was never going to affect the performance of the #45 Toyota in any significant way.
Long-term, would this have been sustainable?
Ordinarily, probably not. We saw JTG Daugherty Racing try to run one chartered entry and one non-chartered entry this year, and they have already confirmed that they will run only their chartered entry next year.
Additionally, we saw MBM Motorsports run the full 2020 schedule and enter 2021 planning to do the same, but those plans changed quite early on, and their appearances became somewhat sporadic.
But for a team with the sponsors and partners that 23XI Racing have — not to mention the fact that the name Michael Jordan is associated — the financial burden was never going to have nearly the impact that it would have had on a smaller team such as the two mentioned in the above paragraph.
So while there was a certain level of risk involved, it was not something to be seriously concerned about. Even if things had not played out with StarCom Racing, there would have been more opportunities for 23XI Racing to pounce in the future.
Is it easy to say that 23XI Racing rushed the process? Sure. A charter was always seen as a crucial part of this scenario, and they not only went ahead with expansion but confirmed a second driver without securing a second charter. But even if they hadn’t secured that charter following the initial disappointment of a deal falling through, they would have been fine long-term.