This will make for a fun NASCAR trivia question someday: Bubba Wallace might be the first driver in 23XI Racing‘s history, but Ty Dillon will technically be the first to run a race for the team. With Wallace ineligible to run next Tuesday’s Busch Clash on the Daytona road course, the team has turned to Dillon to provide his services in the #23 Toyota Camry for the exhibition race. Root Insurance, one of the team’s founding partners, will serve as sponsor.
“Pumped to wheel the @root_insurance Camry in the Clash and help the @23XIRacing team get started on the right foot! Thankful for the opportunity,” Dillon tweeted on Wednesday.
23XI, co-founded by Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin and basketball great Michael Jordan last fall, will field the #23 on a full-time basis for Wallace, who moves over from Richard Petty Motorsports after a watershed 2020 season. However, Wallace does not meet any of the criteria to run the Clash; to become eligible, a driver must have won a pole in 2020, be a former Clash or Daytona 500 winner who ran the full 2020 Cup season, be a 2020 playoff driver, or won a stage or stage in the previous year.
On the other hand, Dillon is eligible by virtue of his Stage #1 win at the Charlotte Roval in October, a race that he would finish in twenty-third with five laps led. He lost his ride at Germain Racing when the team shut down after the 2020 season, eventually moving to the Toyota camp for the first time in his career as he prepares to run the Daytona 500 for Gaunt Brothers Racing and a four-race Xfinity Series schedule for Joe Gibbs Racing.
While Dillon and Wallace are now colleagues at 23XI and Toyota, they were also allies at their former teams as RPM and Germain were part of the Richard Childress Racing/Chevrolet umbrella (owned by Dillon’s grandfather). The two drivers also connected off the track during the 2020 season, most notably as Wallace led the NASCAR world’s protests for racial equality in the summer while Dillon was the first white driver to speak up in support, and both would hold a 30-minute Instagram discussion about their experiences with racism.
Like the Roval, the Daytona configuration that the Clash will be held on is an infield road course, one on which Dillon finished twentieth in the Cup Series’ maiden stop in August. Dillon’s best Cup Series road course finish is fifteenth at the Roval in 2019, while he has three top-five finishes in his Xfinity Series races on such tracks. While he has never visited Victory Lane at a road course, he came close to doing it in the 2013 Camping World Truck Series‘ race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where he led before being turned by Chase Elliott as they entered the final corner.
Although rare, replacement drivers for the Clash have occurred in the past. In 2016, Brian Vickers drove the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing in place of an injured Tony Stewart. In regards to interim drivers for eligibility reasons, the 2010 race saw Ken Schrader take over Team Red Bull‘s #82 for the ineligible Scott Speed. In 2004, Mike Skinner drive MB2 Motorsports’ #10 car in place of rookie Scott Riggs; incidentally, his team-mate for the race was Boris Said in the #01, who was a substitute for the injured Jerry Nadeau though Joe Nemechek was otherwise the car’s driver for 2004. Other replacements took place for sponsorship reasons, such as Bill Elliott driving Sterling Marlin‘s Chip Ganassi Racing #40 (though renumbered to #39) in the 2005 event to work with sponsor Coors (with whom he won the 1988 championship) and Ricky Craven showing up in Hendrick Motorsports‘ #25 in 1998 instead of John Andretti, whose Petty team was prohibited by their owner from competing due to his objections to alcohol sponsorship (the Clash was known as the Budweiser Shootout at the time).
The 2021 Clash will be the first time that the non-points event was held on Daytona’s road course. The layout, typically used for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona as exhibited this past weekend, will be used for NASCAR points racing later in the month as the second race of the season.