New NASCAR team owners Denny Hamlin and Justin Marks discuss the growth of the sport

Through Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

CHARLOTTE, NC – One of the new young owners in the NASCAR Cup Series isn’t afraid to make noise, whether it’s with a famous co-owner or saying something in the media that might frustrate co-owners or NASCAR leadership.

Another of the new, young owners in the NASCAR Cup Series isn’t afraid to make noise, whether it’s with a famous co-owner or something that surprises the garage because of its unpredictable nature.

Denny Hamlin, whose 23XI Racing team is owned by Michael Jordan, and Justin Marks, whose Trackhouse Racing team co-owns musician Pitbull, are approaching ownership in different ways. What they have in common is vast racing experience and a desire to see the sport grow.

Denny Hamlin wins the 2022 Coca-Cola 600

Denny Hamlin wins the 2022 Coca-Cola 600

Denny Hamlin wins the longest race in NASCAR history in a wild overtime finish in Charlotte on Sunday.

“Listen, I’m working very, very hard to change the sport for the better,” Hamlin said. “I’m doing my part. I want to leave this sport in a better place than when I came here.

“I have invested enough and [am] informed enough to have an opinion on some of the subjects we spoke about.”

During race week in Charlotte, both young owners found their way into the spotlight.

Marks did so by announcing Project 91, a third Cup car for Team Trackhouse, which Marks will field in one race this year and potentially six to eight races next year. The idea is to bring an internationally known driver into the cup series.

“A lot of teams are so focused on just trying to win NASCAR Cup Series races that they focus all of their attention [on that] because it’s hard to do,” Marks said.

“But I came here to do big, big things.”

With the next-gen car being designed similarly to sports cars and touring cars, which many drivers have at least some experience with, the transition might be a little easier now than for drivers who have previously tried one-off events, Mark says.

“Project 91 is more about international relevance than where they come from. … I would do a run with anyone within reason,” Marks said. “But the thing is, Project 91 exists as a brand extension of Trackhouse that can put together programming that the world would be interested in.”

Justin Marks on Team Trackhouse’s first win

Justin Marks on Team Trackhouse's first win

In April, Justin Marks joined Kaitlyn Vincie, Andy Petree and Bobby Labonte at the NASCAR Race Hub to discuss Team Trackhouse’s first win.

Former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen, who retired last year, will drive the number 91 Cup car at Watkins Glen in August.

While the program’s announcement last week seemed to come out of nowhere, the idea has been alive for a number of years.

“It was an idea that’s been on the shelf since the early days of Trackhouse,” Marks said. “It was just in the corner of my head.

“But the real pursuit of Project 91 started about four or six races into the season when I felt like things were settled in a way that I could toss a new idea at anyone without overwhelming them.”

The key will be having riders pushing the needle internationally and Marks has been in touch with several riders after last week. Raikkonen has some NASCAR experience, having competed in an Xfinity and a truck race in 2011.

“It’s just a great way to grow our brand,” said Marks. “I want to build a great motorsport brand. That’s why this team would never be called ‘Justin Marks Racing’ or ever bear my name.

“There are just so many ways to unite different corners of the motorsport world and be the brand that really goes international.”

It had been just a year since Marks stunned the NASCAR world by announcing that he had bought Chip Ganassi Racing effective at the end of the season.

This means that more than 100 employees and a team infrastructure are in Marks’ hands. The first season for Trackhouse was spent with a handful of staff embedded at Richard Childress Racing.

The purchase of Ganassi allowed Trackhouse to come to the circuit on a weekly basis to win races. Ross Chastain has already won twice this year.

WILD FINISH: Ross Chastain avoids wrecks and wins at Talladega

WILD FINISH: Ross Chastain avoids wrecks and wins at Talladega

Ross Chastain runs past Kyle Larson and Erik Jones on the final stretch to win at Talladega.

Hamlin didn’t buy a team. He started from scratch in his first season in 2021, then expanded to two cars for 2022 while also remaining a driver with Joe Gibbs Racing.

He also bought land for a shop but hasn’t started construction yet. In a Sports Business Journal story published last week, Hamlin said he told NASCAR Chairman Jim France that any additional investment would be deferred until Hamlin had confidence in the business model.

Hamlin, like many owners, wants a bigger share of the television revenue (teams get 25%, circuits 65%, and NASCAR, which also owns the majority of the circuits, 10%).

Whenever he can, Hamlin will use his media platform to advocate for change.

“The pizza is big enough,” Hamlin said of earnings in the sport. “But there are some that are stuffed and some that are starving. And they all sit at the same table.”

Not everyone likes Hamlin’s style — or at least they wouldn’t take the same approach.

“I think we have to be careful not to fight this war in the media,” Marks said.

Marks and Hamlin recently had lunch with Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, whose portfolio of tracks spans 16 of the 38 Cup events. Hamlin wanted tracks, which are now private companies and not public companies like they have been for the past quarter century, to be more open with teams about their finances.

“I just feel like between me and Justin we know what it takes to get into this sport,” Hamlin said. “We’ve only come here in the last few years, we’ve seen what the model is, we see the challenges it takes for teams to win and succeed so quickly in our sport, how tough this business is [is] to stabilize in the long term.

“And we want to improve it by working with our TV partners, our track partners and NASCAR. I think if we start working together, we’re going to make big, big business out of it.”

The sport has had a long-standing tug-of-war between car owners and racetracks as they compete for sponsorship and bicker over the cost of suites and hospitality and activation for sponsors.

“Any time you can sit around a table and be open and honest with each other, it’s productive,” Marks said. “I think we have to do this more than sport.

“There are too many meetings behind closed doors in conversations where we assume what the other side thinks without just opening that door and trying to really find out.”

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think out loud

Was Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 a good race for the next-gen car? With all the spins and blowouts and Chris Buescher’s rollover that resulted in 18 cautions over 90 laps, that’s likely to be discussed.

Chris Buescher flips headfirst, barrel rolls

Chris Buescher flips headfirst, barrel rolls

Daniel Suarez is flipped by Chase Briscoe resulting in a large wreck where Chris Buescher flips several times.

Even winner Denny Hamlin said he couldn’t judge the race until he watched a replay.

That was a good night, but not a great night for the next-gen car. It delivered exciting races (probably partly because of the numerous restarts).

NASCAR doesn’t need five hour races, however, so hopefully teams and Goodyear can make gains where they can handle the loads better and be a little more stable.

social spotlight

Statistics of the day

At 619.5 miles, the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday was the longest race in the history of the cup. It was the third longest 600 in terms of time at five hours, 16 minutes and 16 seconds.

You said so

“It’s not ideal by any means. I’ll be a bit sore.” — Chris Buescher after his flip

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsport, including the past 30 Daytona 500. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after working at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene Magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal . Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpock breed. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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NASCAR - CUP - Coca-Cola 600 - 05/29/2022NASCAR – CUP – Coca-Cola 600 – 05/29/2022

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