At 33 years old, Josh Shipplett envisioned spending another five years as a tire carrier on pit road. But when 23XI Racing decided to have its own pit crews rather than contracting them from Joe Gibbs Racing, it changed Shipplett’s plan.
He became the team’s pit coach and was charged with building 23XI Racing’s pit crew program.
“Coaching opportunities in this series don’t come available every day,” Shipplett told NBC Sports. “To be able to do it from scratch and build something the way that 23XI believed in and I also believed in, I knew it was going to be hard, but in my thoughts it would have been a lot harder to go somewhere else and change a philosophy they already had.
“To have this opportunity to start from new and have the coaching opportunity was something that probably wasn’t going to happen, so I had to jump on it.”
The performance of 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick and their pit crew will be among the key storylines this season.
Co-owner Denny Hamlin has said that a goal is to have both cars in the playoffs this season. The pit crew’s execution will be key to that. Last year, 23XI Racing’s pit crews struggled at times. A more consistent unit could help Wallace and Reddick win more often.
Shipplett is used to winning. His first Cup race as a tire carrier came in the 2011 Daytona 500 with Wood Brothers Racing, which won that day with Trevor Bayne. Shipplett also was the tire carrier when Hamlin won the 2019 and ’20 Daytona 500s. Shipplett served as tire carrier for 23XI Racing’s No. 45 car last year and was a part of Kurt Busch’s winning crew at Kansas.
Hiring a pit crew member without coaching experience to lead a new program could be viewed as a gamble, but 23XI Racing didn’t see it that way.
“I think it is part of how we are looking at everything here,” Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing, told NBC Sports. “We have an engineer that worked in DTM (German grand touring car series). We have a mechanic from Formula One. It’s the way Denny is looking at it. This is where his input is so beneficial. He’s been around it long enough and he has a vision of how he wants the leadership and the people here to work together, collectively as one team in 23XI.
“I think he’s got a good eye at picking talent. It doesn’t mean how many teams have you worked for, it’s can you do what we want to do here? Can you look at it a different way? Can you innovate how it’s done? What’s your approach rather than what’s your experience.”
One of the major changes Hamlin wanted to make with the pit crew this season was to have more experienced team members.
“We will continue to develop younger talent down the pipeline, but we don’t have the time to develop them at the racetrack,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “We need the results now and quickly. We want to continue on a good trajectory.”
Shipplett recruited those who had that experience. Only three of the 10 pit crew members were with 23XI Racing last year. Others came from Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Wallace’s pit crew is new from what he had at the start of last year: Front tire changer Austin Dickey, rear tire changer Adam Hartman, tire carrier Brad Donaghy, jackman Jordan Paige and fueler Josh Pech. Only Paige was with 23XI Racing last year, serving on the No. 45 car.
Reddick’s pit crew will be front tire changer Houston Stamper, rear tire changer Brian Bottlemy, tire carrier Wade Moore, jackman Nathan Ricketts and fueler Brian Dheel. Only Dheel and Stamper started last year with 23XI Racing.
The Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing pit crews debuted a new way to service a car last year. Previously, the front tire changer changed right front and then moved to the left front and replaced that tire, while the rear tire changer did the same at the back of the car.
In the new pit style, the front tire changer on the right side runs to the rear tire on the left side and changes it. The rear tire changer on the right side runs to the left front and changes that tire.
“From the time to you leave the (pit) wall to the time the car drops, everything’s 100 miles an hour,” Shipplett said of the new pit style. “Nothing ever slows down. There’s never that point in the stop where you can say, ‘OK, I did my job right here, let’s move to the next step.’ It all just blurred together. I think that’s what caused a lot of issues.”
The new way of pitting a car was faster but any hiccup could adversely affect the stop, costing seconds and track position.
Shipplett said that while the team has practiced the newer style of pitting a car, “it’s definitely not the primary focus.”
Instead, he would rather have consistent stops. The key is positions gained on pit road. Shipplett noted that if a pit crew has three nine-second pit stops and a final stop of 12 or more seconds, the team is likely to lose more positions in that slower stop than they gained together on the three faster stops.
“Let’s have that (good) average,” Shipplett said of an average time per pit stop, “but let’s not do it by having three really fast stops and then a catastrophic failure.”
While he’s not been a coach before, his experience on pit road will help the 23XI Racing crews.
“You’ve lived it,” Shipplett said. “You can see where people are pushing maybe where they shouldn’t be pushing.”
Shipplett also is training with the pit crews because he will be the tire carrier for Travis Pastrana’s car. Pastrana is driving the No. 67, a third entry for 23XI Racing at Daytona. He is not guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500 and must earn it through qualifying or his qualifying race.
While Hamlin has said he plans to have a car ready for Kurt Busch should Busch want to race it once he’s cleared after his injury last summer, there aren’t plans to run the No. 67 car beyond Daytona at this point. The focus will remain on the pit crews for Wallace and Reddick.
2. No change for Trackhouse Racing
Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “we’re not interested” in joining Toyota.
His comments come in light of David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, recently telling NBC Sports of Toyota’s interest in expanding its Cup lineup in 2024.
“Our relationship with Chevrolet is so important to us,” Marks said on “SiriusXM Speedway” this week. “We’ve tethered ourselves to the trajectory, to the commitment, to the passion that they’ve got for this sport.
“They’ve obviously made a huge investment with their tech and innovation center in Concord, North Carolina, supporting their key partner teams. We’re one of three teams that are the key partners, right alongside (Richard Childress Racing) and Hendrick (Motorsports), which is an incredibly valuable relationship for us. … I think more Toyotas on the racetrack would be good for David and good for his group over there, it just won’t be with Trackhouse.”
❌ “We’re not interested.”
🗣️ “This is a mainstay in American automotive culture.” pic.twitter.com/OOYULTcZez
— SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch. 90) (@SiriusXMNASCAR) February 9, 2023
3. Advice for Jimmie Johnson
Next week at Daytona will mark only the second time that seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has driven the Next Gen car. He drove it for a day at a Phoenix test in January.
With no Cup practice before the qualifying races, the only laps Johnson will have in the car at Daytona will be his qualifying laps on Wednesday. The qualifying races are on Thursday. Johnson, co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, is one of six drivers vying for four spots available to non-chartered cars.
“He’s already been asking some questions about superspeedway racing with these cars,” teammate Erik Jones said. “I know he’s doing his homework.”
What has Jones told Johnson about how these cars are on a superspeedway?
“Just the way these cars draft is so different. … It’s harder to move up through the pack,” Jones said. “I felt like with the old car, especially the last year or two, you could make some big moves and aggressive moves. They were risky, but you could put yourself back in position pretty quickly to get in the spot you want to be in to try to win the race.
“With this car, if you’re not up in the top four at the end of it, I don’t feel like you have a chance, really, unless something kind of crazy happens towards the end of the race. I think you have to race more than ever. You have to have a fast car more than ever.”
Last weekend’s Clash featured mufflers on the Cup cars. There remains some work to do.
The mufflers reduced the sound of the cars slightly but the rumble remained for those who like the loud noise.
One aspect of the mufflers, though, is that some drivers talked about how hot it was inside the car.
“It was extremely hot with the mufflers,” Chase Briscoe said after the Clash. “I was getting pretty fumed out bad.”
Justin Haley said he and Kaulig Racing teammate AJ Allmendinger didn’t have any issues with fumes or heat last weekend.
Corey LaJoie said he thought the mufflers worked well.
“I like the sound,” he said of the car with a muffler. “I like kind of knocking that ear-piercing noise out of it. I feel like we could package it better than they are now. It looks like we’re trying to fit 10-pound mufflers into a five-pound rocker box at the moment. I think there’s a way to be able to do that and make it look cleaner.
“I know that some guys complained about (carbon monoxide) fumes and stuff like that, which might be a case of just that small track because you’re not getting a whole lot of air circulating in the Coliseum.”
The next time mufflers are scheduled to be on the cars is for the July 2 Chicago Street Race.
5. Super Bowl and Daytona 500
Sunday’s Super Bowl matches the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. For NASCAR fans, the game could provide a clue as to who might win the Daytona 500.
Four times since 2016, the margin of victory in the Super Bowl was 10 or more points. Three of those years, Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500.
The last time Kansas City won the Super Bowl was 2020. Denny Hamlin scored his third Daytona 500 win that year.
The last time Philadelphia won the Super was 2018. Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 that year.
The last time a player other than a quarterback or wide receiver won the Super Bowl MVP award was 2016. Hamlin won the Daytona 500 that year.