Race Weekend Central

23XI President Steve Lauletta Looking for More Progress in Year 3

Steve Lauletta is the President of 23XI Racing and a veteran of the NASCAR industry, having previously spent 10 years in the same role at Chip Ganassi Racing. We’ve split this interview into two parts, the first focusing on the drivers and the second (out Saturday, Feb. 11) a broader look at the team overall.

Danny Peters, Frontstretch: You’re just two years in and you have three wins, 13 top-fives, 22 top-10s and 396 laps led. How would you grade the team’s performance overall?

Steve Lauletta: I think we’ve done a very nice job of delivering strong results as a very young team. I think the three wins in our first two seasons, having a win with a new team [the 45 team] and Bubba [Wallace] getting his second win [at Kansas Speedway] shows the progression we are making. And that’s why taking another step in 2023 is so important to us and being prepared to do that is what we’ve all been focused on since the end of the last season.

Peters: What was your favorite moment so far?

Lauletta: I think Talladega in 2021. Getting that win for Bubba, for Denny [Hamlin] and Michael [Jordan] his owners. It was really special to get our first win in our first year. Only three teams have won races in their first year at the Cup level — including us. It’s a pretty strong testament to us coming out of the gate and being not just an interesting brand off the track but one that made some noise on the track in our first year.

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Peters: Low Point?

Lauletta: Starting at Pocono Raceway with Kurt [Busch]. If anyone had asked me in 2021 to guess when we would have been a two-car team my earliest guess would have been 2023, knowing we had to develop ourselves as an organization. But when a guy like Kurt Busch becomes available and Monster Energy wants to come to the team, we jumped at the chance to become a two-car team in 2022. We had a multiyear agreement with Kurt to be our experienced driver and to take the steps we needed. He’s a great teammate then that all kind of stops with a qualifying crash at Pocono. We had five different drivers in the [No.] 45 [in 2022] including Bubba: Kurt, John Hunter Nemechek, Ty Gibbs and Daniel Hemric. Those are a lot of moving parts over a season that none of us expected. It shows the resilience of this organization that we didn’t miss a beat in any of it. The 45 team — we switched drivers for the owner’s championship — finished 10th in points in our second year. We got our second win at Kansas during that run. Man, it was tough to go through that for Kurt and for all of us because we expected him to be driving with us in 2023 as well. And while he’s still a really important part of the team, he’s not behind the wheel of the 45 car and that’s going to take some adjusting.

Peters: Five drivers in the 45 car is a lot in one year. It felt like you at times you had to scramble. Was that the case and how does that all work behind the scenes?

Lauletta: It is scrambling. A lot of things go into it. You’ve got to get somebody who is going to be really competent behind the wheel, we’re competing at a high level. Most of them have other commitments like [the NASCAR Xfinity Series] and there are short contract turnarounds, the logistics of safely fitting in the car, the right safety equipment, communication with crew chief and mechanic. At Phoenix we got the call at 10:40 a.m. in the morning and the car needed to be on the grid at 1 p.m. It’s an all-out rush to figure out who’s available, how do they fit in the car safely, and we did the same thing in Pocono between qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday when we put Ty Gibbs in the car. So, there’s so many moving parts, doing it five times during the year, I hope we have a lot quieter 2023 with those extracurricular challenges we went through last year.

Peters: Bubba had a better year in 2022, especially in the playoffs, finishing the season strong. How much was it his maturation as a driver, the influence of Kurt or just the benefits of a second full year with the team?

Lauletta: Bubba continues to progress. He’s still very young in his Cup career. We were all young with the brand-new car. He adapted well. Him and Bootie [Barker] having a year together. Same with E [Etienne Cliche – No 23 Race Engineer] to build around the processes and the success. Bubba really came into his own and had a career year. He dominated the race at Kansas, had a lot of confidence, a perennial top 10 guy in the final third of the year or more. We fixed our pit crew challenges. He was doing great from the start of the year, but we let him down with pit crew issues, parts failures that we got cleaned up. And now the expectation, he came out strong at the Clash and had a good run that the confidence is building in him and in the team and making the playoffs with the 23 team and both our cars is our goal and expectation this season.

Peters: It’s no secret that Bubba’s team had pit road issues last year. You’ve hired your own pit crews rather than “lease” pit crews from technical alliance partner Joe Gibbs Racing. What impact do you expect that to have?

Lauletta: We’ll see. We’re still working with JGR and using their facilities with our pit crew and we’ll be sharing information, training, secrets and plans together. But the 45 and 23 team and our [pit crew] coach will be 23XI employees which is the biggest difference. They are a part of our culture full time. While we always try to include our JGR pit crew members in the things that we would do as a team they weren’t our employees. Now they are. We hope it brings us a step closer to the type of place 23XI is to work at and work for and set our own expectations of how we want them to operate and what levels of success look like. It’s yet to be seen but we feel that it will be a really good situation for us, a consistent situation for us week in week out and we’ll see how it plays out starting in Daytona.

Peters: Denny said of Tyler Reddick: “Franchise drivers don’t come around often…I know, because I’ve raced against them. Tyler will win a lot of races. He’s really, really good.” What are the expectations for Reddick in 2023?

Lauletta: I think continued growth and advancement. He won those three races last year after we had signed him. But we knew the potential was there and wanted him to be part of the 23XI family if he became available and Denny always had his eye on him. When we found out he was available in 2024 we quickly worked to see if we could secure his services and now, we have him a year earlier than expected. He’s made the playoffs [in 2022]. There are many rounds to go that he can advance in the playoffs that he hasn’t yet. So, I think it’s a continual process for him as a young driver and us a young team to work together to keep checking those boxes. Denny has said we want to become a championship caliber team in five years and we’re entering year three of that plan so the first goal for both teams is to make the playoffs and continue to advance from there.

Peters: Can you talk a little about the importance of Kurt Busch as a mentor for Tyler and Bubba and what role will he be playing for 23XI Racing this year?

Lauletta: I think it’s really important for all of us to have Kurt here and the great thing is he really wants to stay involved and contribute: his experience, his team building attitude. I’ll give you an example, we called everyone together, and he brought somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 radio-controlled cars to the shop and the whole point was to have some fun at lunch and let the guys blow off some steam and he had them all decaled with our partners and car numbers. That’s the way he thinks about ways we can continue to bring the organization together. And he leads a lot of that. He does that with the drivers, whether it’s simple things he’s learned over the years that he’s been behind the wheel, putting his arm around them when they feel should have done A but they did B and working with our crew chiefs and partners. For us on the business side, he’s a tremendous asset with his relationship building with partners and his engagement on social media. All those things are still Kurt Busch the champion and Kurt Busch the personality and we’re really thankful he’s going to be part of this team, hopefully for many years to come as he steps out of his full-time driving role. And who knows, he may drive a race or two, we don’t know that yet, but we’re here to support him in whatever he wants to do, and we want him to support us as we continue to grow.

Peters: Is the plan for Kurt to get behind the wheel at some point in 2023?

Lauletta: That’s up to him. Right now, he’s still working on getting to be 100% from a NASCAR driver perspective. But we’ve got 100% of him off the track and that’s what’s exciting.

Peters: Does Kurt have an official job title?

Lauletta: We’ve been having conversations about it and it’s pretty funny. He has an idea and I have an idea and we’re yet to agree on what it should be.

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Peters: Was it difficult convincing Kurt’s sponsors to stick around with him being out of the car?

Lauletta: No, I think they all were very happy with not only Kurt Busch but for what 23XI Racing did for them in the first year. Obviously there will be a little bit of different relationship with Monster Energy, they’re also with Ty Gibbs. But they’re with us and Tyler on the 45. We’ve got some news coming about some exciting plans they have with us. But it’s been great to keep everyone with us, knowing that the team and what we’ve discussed as our value as a brand off the track and what we can do on the track and they’re all very happy with it and want to continue.

Peters: Travis Pastrana in the 67? Was the 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 numerology deliberate and how did the deal come about?

Lauletta: It was! And it was Toyota coming to us, he has a relationship with Subaru, and when he wanted to run in the 500 they said it needs to be with a Toyota team so he reached out to Toyota and TRD and they came to us and said would we be interested. We had a number of conversations internally and there were a few reasons why we thought it would be a good reason to do. It would give our people, both preparation-wise and at the race track a chance to get some experience with a third car in case we wanted to expand at some point for a few races or a full time third car. Gives us a chance to understand where those challenges might be and it’s the Daytona 500 our biggest race of the year. So, if we could put another Toyota out there and have another drafting partner, that’s the time to try and do it. And it’s Travis Pastrana, right? He’s a great personality, he’s had experience in NASCAR before, not in these cars obviously. His reach is great for our brand and we seem to fit. He’s been a pleasure to work with so far. It’s a tall task to qualify as an open car but we’re up for the challenge and we’ll see what happens.

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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it will be interesting to watch the teammates if reddick comes out of the box strong and gets more than 1 win this year.


Does anyone except Bubba and his mother expect him to have a better year than Reddick?

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