Bubba Wallace’s “Not Supposed to Be Here” Attitude Needs to Change for Owner Denny Hamlin’s 5-Year Blueprint

Published 02/12/2024, 6:13 PM EST

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Now that the Daytona 500 is right around the corner, all teams are gearing up to kick-start the 2024 season with set expectations and targets for their drivers to achieve in the Championship. Denny Hamlin has started the season with a bang for Joe Gibbs Racing after visiting victory lane at the Clash. But the 23XI co-owner has bigger problems to solve when it comes to the mindset of his drivers.

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Wallace’s disbelief and joy with his 10th ranking in last year’s point standings haven’t gone well with Denny Hamlin. Throughout last season, it’s been a common theme for Bubba Wallace to use the phrase ‘we weren’t supposed to be here’ while describing mediocre results as a result of the team’s underdog stature. So when Wallace spoke along similar lines of the expectations from 23XI Racing in Netflix’s: NASCAR Full Speed documentary, it ultimately prompted the team’s co-owner to raise that bar publicly.

Denny Hamlin gives Bubba Wallace a reality check before the 2024 season kicks off

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In the latest episode of Denny Hamlin‘s Actions Detrimental podcast, the JGR racer reflected on the expectations that Wallace had set for himself. He felt that for a team like 23XI that has been on the rise for the past few seasons, Wallace’s shock at finishing the season in the top ten lacked ambition. “It bugged me a little bit when I watched the Netflix thing, and Bubba, he’s always got this chip on his shoulder. He says ‘We’re not supposed to be here’. I was like, ‘Yeah, you are? I expect you to be here.’,” he said.

It’s no secret that Wallace isn’t exactly a fan-favorite, with many community members calling out the 30-year-old on his lack of competence in terms of contending for the top five in the past few seasons. But for Hamlin, that is hardly a reason for Wallace to have such low expectations of 23XI Racing. Hamlin had a few words of advice for Wallace. “You absolutely have everything it takes to be a top ten point guy and then you figure out how to get a little bit better every single year and you start chipping away.”

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The 2024 Busch Light Clash winner felt that his 23XI driver had to set small goals each season to slowly make it into the championship four, starting with a modest goal of improving on last year’s 10th-place finish by two positions at least. He added, “It’s a slow and steady progression for sure, but as a team owner, I expect my guys to compete for race wins each and every week because I believe that we give them the resources to do that. We’re not an underdog.” 

While Hamlin’s choice of words may seem harsh, the fact that 23XI is expanding its operations and has shown great signs of progress should be factors that raise the bar even higher, and not just restrict it to the top ten. Setting the record straight, Hamlin gave Wallace another reality check. “This is not an underdog team anymore for sure and so, patting ourselves on the back for running in the top ten? I don’t mean to be the tough guy, but those are very modest goals for our team.”

So if Bubba Wallace’s expectations are not up to Denny Hamlin’s standard, what exactly is the end goal for 23XI Racing under the JGR star’s leadership?

Hamlin’s expectations from 23XI racing

Despite Wallace not bringing home any gold in 2023, 23XI racing had a great run in terms of the hunt for the top five with Tyler Reddick, who ended the season in 6th. And while that result seemed to please Hamlin owing to Reddick’s two wins, Hamlin sidelined the numbers and statistics to lay down what the team’s primary focus should be for 2024.

He said, “It’s hard to pin your success or failures based on what happens in a stat column. Let me think about Kevin Harvick, for instance.” Hamlin pointed to Kevin Harvick’s unfortunate exit from a shot at the Championship Four owing to wrecks in Texas and a few other uncontrollable incidents, which saw his ten wins go in vain that season.

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But while Harvick’s wins failed to help him secure a Championship 4 spot, Hamlin believes that’s the only statistic that truly matters. The 23XI Co-owner added, “S*! Give me a ten-race win season and not make the final four? I’m probably gonna say alright, I’m okay with that! I mean, you know what I’m saying? Are the championships the same? No, they’re not. Wins, man. Wins, wins, wins! Those are the guys that you’re talking about.” 

Hamlin also gave an example to prove his point that came at the expense of Ryan Blaney, reflecting on the time the reigning champion was sidelined by the New York Knicks for a photo operation. He concluded by revealing what makes a driver worthy of being called top-class: “It’s just different, right? And so I think that – show that you can be a contender every single week and that’s gonna be your elite group for sure.”

WATCH THIS STORY: NASCAR Insider Claims Kevin Harvick Will Unwind From His “Buttoned-Up” First Appearance

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So with Denny Hamlin dialing up the heat on Bubba Wallace to perform, will the 23XI racer manage to bring in a better result than last year’s top ten? Or will Hamlin’s call for action fail to be heard?

 

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Written by:

Kabir Bajaj Ahmed

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Kabir Bajaj Ahmed is an F1 & NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. Known for his storytelling and extensive research skills, he has covered multiple stories on Dale Earnhard Jr and his legendary dad, allowing readers to relive the thunderous days of 'The Intimidator'. Being a racer himself, Kabir can resonate with the motorsport world better than most.
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Edited by:

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