The overriding theme surrounding this season has been the parity among the drivers and teams. There have been five first-time winners this year, which is already a new record for the Cup Series. There have been 13 different race winners and eight drivers that won a race last year have not yet won this season.

One of those drivers is Bubba Wallace, who was expected to make some serious gains in his second full-time season with 23XI Racing. The team expanded this year to add a second car for veteran Kurt Busch, who claimed a victory at Kansas two months ago. While the results have been mixed, there are still plenty of positives to go around as the regular season begins to wind down.

The organization has experienced several growing pains since last season. There have been self-inflicted mistakes and issues outside of their control, but they have one driver locked into the playoffs, and are hoping to get the other in very soon. President of 23XI Racing, Steve Lauletta, believes that their growth has been great.

"I think we’ve made a lot of progress in a season and 19 races," Lauletta said. "To grow to a second car and to get both cars to win and to continue to have partners that are really excited to be a part of the team has all been very good. Still a lot of people coming together for the first time and building a culture and learning how to work together and then racing week-in and week-out. It has been challenging, it has been rewarding, it has been fun, but there is a lot of work to do."

The speed is there for Toyota, and Lauletta believes that they just need to execute down the stretch. "All of us will now help the 23 and try to get that win and get them in the playoffs. We get our pit stops cleaned up and we’ll be rocking and rolling." That could happen today at Atlanta, where both cars have been very good.

The race at Atlanta earlier this season was good for the 23XI team, with Kurt finishing 3rd and Bubba coming home 13th as both drivers led laps and challenged for the win.

Both drivers will have some work to do this afternoon after rain washed out qualifying yesterday. Kurt will roll off in 21st position while Bubba starts further back in the 32nd spot. The good news is that starting position is not a major factor in the race. Since 1996 there has only been one race where the pole sitter went on to win, and that came back in 2006. In the last nine races here, two winners have come from the 19th starting position and another came all the way from 37th.

This is a place where Busch has won four times over the course of his career, which is most among active drivers. The former Cup champion has the most top-ten finishes (17) here, has a pole, and 952 laps led, trailing only Kevin Harvick in that category. He has won here with three different teams (Roush, Penske, Ganassi) and hopes to add to that list this afternoon.

The reconfigured track initially challenged the elder Busch brother, but he is looking forward to the green flag later today. “It’s an engineering marvel to bank a race track with this much banking and keep the turns this sharp and to have it as smooth as it is. They did a really good job.”

On the flip side, Bubba has just six starts at Atlanta, three each with Richard Petty Motorsports and his current home. His result earlier this year is his best career finish, but it should have been so much better. Wallace was running in 2nd on the final lap, when he was collected in an accident. Atlanta is now more similar to a superspeedway, the type of racing that Bubba excels at. He needs a solid finish today, for a variety of reasons.

Obviously, a win would be the ultimate prize for the organization to get both cars into the playoffs. It would also hush the naysayers that say he needs a win to validate his rain-shortened victory last season at Talladega. Most of all, a win today would clean up the recent frustrations that have been seeping out of the No. 23 camp.

Wallace and crew chief Bootie Barker had an exchange over the team radio at Nashville a couple of weeks ago that got quite a bit of attention. A trip back to pit lane for a loose wheel put the 23 car a lap down, which unleashed the comments.

“Everything is good right now,” Barker said on the radio. “Obviously, we are a lap down. I apologize for that.” Wallace responded: “Leave me the fuck alone, dude. Don’t talk to me the whole fucking race.” Barker replied: “I am, and we’re not out of it. Keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll be just fine. I know you are pissed and you deserve to be.” After the race, a cooler Wallace explained the situation.

“In the heat of the battle, you talk to your team, they understand. Talked to Bootie. He understands. He understands the frustration. That’s the biggest thing. Want to win. Need to win. Got to win. Had the team capable of winning. The car is capable of winning. So that just creates passion. With passion comes frustration. Just got to manage it.”

Despite the brief moment of anger, Wallace is not worried about the confidence in the 23XI team. “I have the confidence more than ever, especially with the team that I’m with and the people that are on the team and what we’re able to do,” he said. “Showing up and being fast right off the truck last weekend was a huge confidence boost for all of us.”

Kurt offered some advice to his younger teammate, which he knows is just part of the process and maturation of a driver. “There are going to be setbacks; there are going to be those tough races, but we all have to get back to the shop and be there together.” If anyone can guide Bubba through the ups and downs that a driver experiences, it is Kurt.

As the playoffs get closer, Busch is eager to capitalize on this solid year with the team. "Even without the win at Kansas, this has been one of my most rewarding seasons with building the team up and being a part of something brand new," he said. "The family atmosphere here at 23XI. It’s what made this season fun and it’s energizing."

Team co-owner Denny Hamlin likes what he sees so far. Lauletta says that Hamlin is happy. "He sees the fact that over the last six, seven weeks we’ve been really, really strong on the track with speed. We’ve had our challenges in the pits. Everybody has seen that with the 23. We’re working hard with Joe Gibbs Racing to fix those." Those changes were announced earlier this week.

The JGR organization provides the pit crews for both of 23XI's cars. They moved front tire changer Houston Stamper and tire carrier Joe Crossen to Wallace’s No. 23 team from Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Toyota. Wallace’s former front changer Jackson Gibbs and tire carrier Nick McBeath head to Bell’s car.

This could be a move that potentially gets Bubba that much-needed victory in these next eight weeks. Having both cars in the playoffs in this wild and unpredictable season would be a massive stepping stone for the organization as they continue to grow.