Michael Jordan is going to become a NASCAR team owner.
Denny Hamlin announced Monday night that he had joined forces with the NBA icon to field a NASCAR team for Bubba Wallace in 2021.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend Denny Hamlin and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us is very exciting for me. Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”
Wallace is the only Black driver racing full-time at NASCAR’s top level. He announced earlier in September that he was leaving Richard Petty Motorsports after three seasons with the team. Wallace called joining forces with Hamlin and Jordan a “unique once in a lifetime opportunity.”
This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career. I’m grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) September 22, 2020
The single-car team will likely field Toyotas. Hamlin currently drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and is chasing after his first Cup Series title. Toyota has been looking to field another car in the Cup Series in 2021 and beyond.
Hamlin said in a statement that deciding on a driver for the team was easy.
“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level. He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 22, 2020
Jordan would be the first Black majority team owner in NASCAR since Wendell Scott in the 1960s and ’70s. Former NBA center Brad Daugherty is currently a minority owner in JTG-Daugherty Racing.
Wallace’s star has grown in 2020
Wallace has become one of NASCAR’s most recognizable drivers in 2020 thanks to his efforts to speak out against racial injustice. He advocated for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag in a cable news interview in June. Days later, NASCAR announced that it would ban fans from bringing the flag to its races. That same night as NASCAR’s announcement, Wallace drove a car supporting the Black Lives Matter movement after previously starting to wear a shirt that said “Black Lives Matter” before races.
Wallace’s status as the only Black driver racing in the Cup Series and his outspokenness has led to numerous new sponsorship opportunities. Companies like the Cash App, Columbia sportswear and DoorDash have all signed on to sponsor Wallace’s car this season. And he’ll likely be taking a lot of that sponsorship with him from Richard Petty Motorsports to his new team.
“Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right,” Hamlin said. “It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level. Plus, Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it.”
RPM has been the only team Wallace has driven for in the Cup Series. He has nine top-10 finishes in over 100 career starts. His best finish came when he finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500 — just ahead of Hamlin — in his first start in NASCAR’s most prestigious race.
But RPM is a midpack team at best. Wallace hasn’t had equipment good enough to consistently run with the best teams in the Cup Series like Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. The Hamlin-Jordan team will likely have an alliance with JGR in some capacity and should give Wallace the best cars he’s ever had in the Cup Series.
How the team will work
There are still many details to figure out regarding Jordan and Hamlin’s new team. But it’s clear that NASCAR will allow Hamlin to be a co-owner of Wallace’s car while also racing for JGR despite JGR being at the four-car NASCAR team limit.
The arrangement will make Hamlin the first prominent driver to race for one team while owning another since Dale Earnhardt. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion founded Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the 1990s and the team made its first Cup Series start in 1996. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove for his father’s team before moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
It’s also worth noting that the No. 23 is currently available to use in the Cup Series. The last team to use the No. 23 in the Cup Series is the now-defunct BK Racing.
The team will also likely have the charter from Germain Racing. A NASCAR charter guarantees a team a certain percentage of prize money at the end of the season and a guaranteed entry into every race. Hamlin and Jordan’s team had been rumored to be purchasing the charter from Germain Racing’s No. 13 car, and Germain Racing announced Monday night that its charter had been sold.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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