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Dropping the Hammer: 23XI Racing, Kansas & Kurt Busch’s Magic Touch

For a little under 24 hours, 23XI Racing owned Kansas Speedway.

That is at least according to the undisputed source of divine knowledge that could never be abused for humorous purposes: Wikipedia.

In most jokes, there’s a little bit of truth.

Entering Sunday’s (Sept. 10) NASCAR Cup race at the 1.5-mile track, the last three Kansas winners all had some sweat in the game at 23XI Racing, either as drivers, advisors or owners.

That includes Kurt Busch (spring 2022), Bubba Wallace (fall 2023) and team co-owner Denny Hamlin (spring 2023), who is the all-time wins leader at the track with four victories.

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Come the second race of the playoffs, there was one glaring omission in the team’s newest driver.

“We joked last week or so that Tyler (Reddick) was the only driver that sits in our competition debriefs without a win here,” crew chief Billy Scott said after Sunday’s race. “So it’s only appropriate we got it for him finally.”

Before Reddick’s overtime win Sunday, in which he only led two laps and had to pass Hamlin to get the victory, 23XI had led 206 laps at Kansas in the last three race, plus 97 led by Hamlin.

The most dominating performance in that span was, appropriately, the 116 laps led by Busch in May 2022 on the way to claiming the final Cup win of his career before a concussion sidelined him for good weeks later.

It was Busch whom 23XI built its second car around when it expanded in 2022.

And it was Busch — who formally announced his retirement last month — who helped put the pieces in place for the team’s near-death grip on Kansas Speedway.

“We just had a good package,” Scott said. “In all honesty, the Toyotas on mile-and-a-halfs (tracks) have been strong for a long time, and here Kurt started that off with driving us in the direction we needed setup-wise and such. It’s just carried over.”

Scott touched on the dynamic of the current and former drivers who make up the weekly competition meetings for his team.

“They’ve got each other to feed off of,” Scott said. “They all sit there and talk about what makes it work and got good notes. And just in the end, they’re executing, they’re comfortable here, and thankfully, it’s still working.”

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Hamlin has previously noted that he went out of his way to interview a group of Busch’s former teammates when he vetted him for potentially joining 23XI.

He got rave reviews.

Wallace himself did the same, once seeking out on pit road at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the insight of Kevin Harvick — Busch’s former teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I was like, ‘Hey, how is Kurt, because he’s coming over (to the team),'” Wallace recalled asking Harvick, who replied, “‘He’s good, he’s really, really good.’

“‘He makes teams better. His setups are a little wonky, but he’s really, really good.’

“He was right,” Wallace said. “He made our team better.”

Since Busch was sidelined, 23XI has earned three wins and both cars qualified for the playoffs this season. This year is the first time Wallace has qualified for the postseason after his first two race wins took place during the playoffs.

“He made our team progress faster than if it was just me,” Wallace said. “He’s always given positive insight and constructive insight on how to make this better. He came up to me a couple of times and said that ‘you need to be a better teammate. You need to do certain things to help out the leaders of this team,’ and I was like ‘oh, OK.’

“I like Kurt for who he is because he doesn’t sugar coat anything. He comes up to you and delivers it straight, and that is what I try to do.”

Thankfully, while Busch’s NASCAR racing career is over, he’s still around to enjoy his impact on the third-year team.

He remains with 23XI Racing in an advisory role.

Though his name for his role sounds a lot less serious.

“I made up my official title this year,” Busch said at the end of his emotional retirement press conference last month at Daytona. “I was called ‘CFD’ — that is Coefficient of Drag, really. That is what CFD stands for, but I re-nicknamed it Captain of the Fun Department.

“That has been a good role, and here lately, I’ve revised it. I want to be slightly more professional with the group, so I’ve named myself CVO — Chief Vision Officer.

“Whatever it means is whatever it means, but I’ve enjoyed working with all of the departments and being that extra set of eyes and helping our team advance so that we can win more races, be more competitive and have shots at winning championships. Because that is who personally that I am, and I want to give back to the team.”

2023 is Daniel McFadin’s 10th year covering NASCAR, with six years spent at NBC Sports. This is his third year writing columns for Frontstretch. His columns won third place in the National Motorsports Press Association awards for 2021. His work can be found at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and SpeedSport.com. 

The podcast version of “Dropping the Hammer” is presented by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

About the author

Daniel McFadin is a 10-year veteran of the NASCAR media corp. He wrote for NBC Sports from 2015 to October 2020. He currently works full time for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is lead reporter and an editor for Frontstretch. He is also host of the NASCAR podcast "Dropping the Hammer with Daniel McFadin" presented by Democrat-Gazette.

You can email him at danielmcfadin@gmail.com.

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John

I miss Kurt Busch, one of the real drivers. Now that Harvick is retiring, who’s left? Maybe Brad? Maybe Martin? Denny is a whiner now, so not him.

Gabe FOWLER

I want Kurt Busch back too

Ronald Thornton

Wow. I remember the tire falling off and he still came back to win the championship, but at the time he didn’t have a fan in the stands. Glad to see his longevity earned him some respect. The guy has always been a winner. Probably got in more trouble with his mouth than his driving. Love it when they speak “THEIR” truth. He is a racer and always will be. Jimmy Spencer, I love you, but Kurt got u in the long run.

Bill B

Seems the Kansas deal is more a Toyota thing than strictly a 23XI thing.

Echo

True for sure. But I’ve been wondering all year how bubba seemed to learn to drive. I think not only great at understanding what a set up needs to be, seems he’s also a good teacher.

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