Mike Wheeler has moved from the pit box to the meeting room. On Thursday, 23XI Racing announced he will permanently become the Director of Competition, a position that he previously shared with his crew chiefing duties. Robert “Bootie” Barker will take over as crew chief of the #23 Toyota Camry for the rest of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Wheeler joined the newly formed 23XI Racing for 2021 after spending much of his career with 23XI ally Joe Gibbs Racing. Working alongside driver Bubba Wallace, the #23 sits twenty-second in the driver standings with two top tens and a best finish of second in the regular season finale at Daytona. He was previously the crew chief for JGR driver and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin from 2016 to 2019, during which they won five races.
“Mike Wheeler has been a huge part of helping build 23XI Racing,” 23XI president Steve Lauletta stated. “From day one, Wheels has helped put this team together, with a focus on the competition side. As we move towards 2022, it’s important for us to put the right people in place that help continue the growth of 23XI to the next level. As we finish out the 2021 season, this move allows Wheels to focus on our overall vision for 23XI and allow Bootie to help Bubba and the #23 team finish strong over the final eight races.”
Barker last worked in the Cup Series at Germain Racing for its early history, with his most recent campaign coming in 2017 with Ty Dillon; incidentally, Dillon is technically the first driver in 23XI’s history when he ran the exhibition Busch Clash, while the team currently works out of the now-defunct Germain’s shop. A crew chief for two decades, he has seventeen top tens, three top fives, a best race finish of third with Dave Blaney at the famous 2003 Darlington spring race, and a pole with Blaney at Rockingham that year. Barker also has four Xfinity Series wins, all with Scott Wimmer in 2002 en route to a third-place points finish.
“Being a part of 23XI Racing from when it was just an idea, to seeing the plans come to life, securing our temporary shop and working to build this team has been an amazing opportunity and one I’m excited to continue as the team grows and expands,” Wheeler commented. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to be back on the box this season with the #23 team and Bubba, but to be able to solely focus on the next steps it takes to expand to a multi-car team (with Kurt Busch‘s arrival in 2022), build a new shop and get this team to where it’s in contention to win each and every week is exciting for me and I’m ready to give it my full attention as we finish this season and move in to 2022. Bootie has been a great asset to 23XI Racing all season and with his experience, he was the right choice to step in and finish the 2021 season with Bubba and the #23 Toyota Camry team.”
Barker takes over the #23 effective immediately. His first race with Wallace is on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.