𝙃𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙬𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚. #23 pic.twitter.com/vuH3wKRa5M
— 23XI Racing (@23XIRacing) October 22, 2020
Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin has joined NBA Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan to form a NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as the driver. Marking a high-profile pairing of a Black majority team owner and the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level.
Colossal for the history of NASCAR, a positive direction of the sport, and the growth in diverse fans the sport needs.
“We proudly welcome Michael Jordan into the NASCAR family and look forward to watching Michael, Denny Hamlin, and Bubba Wallace compete in 2021,” NASCAR shared in a statement. “Michael is an iconic sports figure, and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement, and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”
NASCAR finally has a business model for people who want to be here and bring more eyes to watching the sport.
Jordan is not here for the chips and the dip. You can guarantee he will be tuned in, not an owner who will be sitting on the couch.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous even though I am not getting in the car,” Jordan told FOX Sports before the 2021 Daytona 500.
Jordan becomes the first Black principal owner of a full-time Cup team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove his own race car in 495 races from 1961 to 1973. Scott’s 1964 victory at the Jacksonville 200 is the only win by a Black driver in Cup history.
“I grew up in NASCAR. My father used to pack the entire family in; we would travel to Darlington, Rockingham, Charlotte, come down to Daytona, Talladega, then we would spend the entire day at the track,” Jordan said. “From that point on, I have been hooked on NASCAR. As an owner, if I am not there physically, you can believe I am there mentally.”
The greatest basketball player of all time earlier this year pledged $100 million over ten years for initiatives combating systemic racism, believed the move into NASCAR is another step toward racial equality.
Jordan joins former NBA player Brad Daugherty, a partner at JTG Daugherty Racing, as the only Black owners at NASCAR’s elite Cup level.
“I have thought about being an owner so many different times because I have never seen a black owner or someone of color who owned their team,” Jordan said. “Moreover, dictate what happens with their team. We have not been dominant in this sport, but the opportunity has never been presented.”
Wallace is the only Black driver in the Cup Series, and this season he has used his platform to push for racial equality. The 27-year-old successfully urged NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events.
“There is so much backlash about this flag from a minority group we are trying to attract; they are not going to be a part of this until it is gone,” Wallace shared. “Let’s make a stance; let’s put our foot down right now. We are opening the door for a whole new family to come in and enjoy our sport.”
Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts over four seasons, but he has six career victories in the Truck series. While driving the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty, and until this summer, the team struggled to land a sponsorship.
The beat went on as Wallace took his talents to “23XI – pronounced twenty-three eleven – Racing.”
Hamlin, a top contender for this year’s Cup title, will be part of a single-car Toyota entry aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin has raced his entire career for Gibbs, a Hall of Fame NFL coach.
“Our team needs to get better,” Hamlin said. “I want to see from the start of the season to the end of the season that the arrow is going in the right direction.”
NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin can work around that policy with Jordan as the principal owner.
“It is a different type of nervous; when I am on the court, I can go rebound, I can go shoot, I can play defense,” Jordan said. “In NASCAR all I can do is cheer.”
Wallace, who has mended together roughly $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made racial equality his platform. Moreover Jordan and Hamlin purchased a private charter for their team from Germain Racing that guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.
“He is going to learn how to win; he has the talent; we would not have invested in him and picked him if he did not have the talent to win,” Jordan said. “By the end of the year, I think he is going to have an opportunity and possibly win a couple of races. If more, I will be elated.”
In 2018, Wallace finished second at the Daytona 500; keep in mind Hamlin will still be competing if he and Wallace are neck and neck for a win, it will be physical, and M.J. wins either way.
Bubba is worthy of this opportunity; he has won in the trucks; in 2020, he hit his stride consistently, running in the top 15; he has a better car this year and better support.
Hamlin is a calculated owner as well. He saw the opportunity to start a team that he is proud of; he has equipment from Joe Gibbs Racing and considers himself a driver – coach.
Hamlin knows all that he studies, the data he looks at, all the things he does to go out and be the best race car driver he can be, and will show all that to Bubba to be more successful. It is not a conflict of interest to be an owner of a race team and driving for another race team they are competing with. It has happened in the sport.
Hamlin has a good plan in place. He has a 2022 “Next Gen” car coming that will standardize the sport. Owners feel that will make their business model look good as well. Denny will handle this and pay attention to what is happening in Joe Gibbs Racing; he will put his head all in when he is a driver but then use his knowledge and ability to manage to help Bubba and the 23XI Racing.