The race for a 2022 championship will continue for the No. 45 Toyota of 23XI Racing — just on the owners’ side.
One week after Kurt Busch and 23XI decided to withdraw the veteran driver’s waiver to compete in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the organization announced that Bubba Wallace will run the course for the No. 45 team for the remainder of the season.
Owners’ points reset alongside driver points before the Round of 16, and the No. 45 23XI Racing entry qualified among those eligible for an owners’ title, boosted by Busch’s May 15 win at Kansas Speedway.
“Kurt put us in the playoffs and isn’t able to finish out the mission,” Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing, told NASCAR.com. “We’re still qualified for the owners’ championship and now we’re looking to [Bubba] and Bootie [Barker, crew chief] and that team to take the No. 45 mantle and try to have our strongest run.”
RELATED: Current owner standings
Though he missed out on the drivers’ playoffs, Wallace has seven top-14 finishes in the last eight races in the No. 23 Toyota. That includes a third-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a runner-up effort at Michigan International Speedway.
Wallace is only in his second year with the blossoming organization, debuting in 2021 as the team’s inaugural driver for a single-car operation. This season, 23XI brought on Busch and expanded to two cars.
“Since we started 23XI as a one-car team and grew to two cars, we’ve always said we are two cars but act as one team,” Lauletta said. “This is us putting that, again, into reality. The whole point of this is to put our team in the best position to get as far in the owners’ championship playoffs as possible.”
The owners’ championship battle mirrors the Cup Series Playoffs and plays out over 10 races, ending with the championship race at Phoenix Raceway. 23XI Racing’s No. 45 entry enters the stretch 12th, only 33 points back from leader Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevrolet.
Swapping the numbers on the car, while keeping personnel changes consistent to what we have seen throughout the season, allows Wallace to compete for the owners’ championship on behalf of the team while Ty Gibbs gains valuable experience behind the wheel of the No. 23 car with Billy Scott remaining as crew chief.
“Everybody knows the challenge,” Lauletta said. “We continue to work together to put both cars in position to be competitive. We want to continue the momentum with the No. 23 team and Bubba that we’ve had, and we want to continue to get Ty more accustomed to this Cup car and the way races play out.”
Busch has been sidelined with symptoms stemming from a concussion sustained in a qualifying crash July 23 at Pocono Raceway. Xfinity Series points leader Gibbs has commanded the entry since.
The current plan has Gibbs continuing to fill the seat until Busch is cleared and ready to make his return. In his first six Cup Series starts, Gibbs has an average finish of 19.7.
SCHEDULE: Darlington and more
Wallace’s first start in the new-look No. 45 entry is scheduled for Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Editor’s note: Primary sponsors and paint schemes will follow each driver alongside the number swap.