In one of the biggest ownership moves in recent NASCAR history, North Carolina Tar Heels legend Michael Jordan and current NASCAR superstar Denny Hamlin have teamed up to create a new NASCAR Cup Series team.
Bubba Wallace, current driver of the no. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, will be the driver for the new team.
Below is Jordan’s statement about the new race team:
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. 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.
Throughout the summer, there have been rumors about Jordan’s potential investment in a NASCAR team. Several different factors led to these rumors, and the shift in NASCAR’s views and policies on social justice, diversity, and political speech were undoubtedly contributing factors.
After the announcement of the shuttering of Germain Racing after the close of the 2020 season, rumors about Hamlin purchasing the team’s charter heated up.
In the NASCAR Cup Series, a charter guarantees entry into the field of every NASCAR Cup Series points race. These can be bought, sold, and transferred on the open market.
Below is Hamlin’s statement:
11 years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends. Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and now we are ready to take it to the next level. Tonight, I’m excited to announce that MJ and I are starting a new, single car NASCAR Cup Series team for 2021. Deciding on a driver was easy - it had to be Bubba Wallace. 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. More details about the team will be released at a later date, but for now, I remain focused on winning a championship for my No. 11 FedEx Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing team this season and in the years ahead.
There are a couple of key points in Hamlin’s statement.
First, the selection of Wallace, the only African-American in the top stock car series on Earth, was the logical choice for the only Cup team with a majority African-American owner.
After the death of George Floyd, Wallace’s Black Lives Matter and racial unity paint scheme at Martinsville, and the investigation of a potential noose at Talladega, NASCAR has stood beside its only black driver.
The time is right for NASCAR to not just talk about diversity, and Jordan and Wallace made that a reality.
Below is Wallace’s statement on his selection as the driver of this new team:
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.
Sponsorship is one of, if not the most important factors in elite motorsports. Since June, Wallace has added several new sponsors that are new to NASCAR, including Beats by Dr. Dre, Columbia, DoorDash, and CashApp.
Besides Beats, it is not currently known if these are personal sponsorships or if they are with Richard Petty Motorsports. However, his ability to bring in new sponsors in a COVID-19 weakened economy bodes well for next season when he has the power of Jordan and the Jordan brand behind him.
The other key point is that Hamlin stated he will “remain focused on winning a championship for my No. 11 FedEx Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing team this season and in the years ahead.”
Hamlin has spent his entire Cup career behind the wheel of the no. 11 FexEx car for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), making his debut at the fall 2005 Kansas race.
After a disappointing 2018 campaign that saw him fall to 11th place in the final standings, the first race with his new crew chief Chris Gabehart was a victory in the 2019 Daytona 500. He finished 4th during the 2019 season and currently ranks second in the NASCAR Playoff standings and third overall in points.
All this is to say that with a solid sponsor in FedEx, and a resurgence to the top of the NASCAR Cup Series field, it is in Hamlin’s best interest to stick with JGR.
So what does this mean for the new Jordan-Hamlin Racing team?
It is unlikely Toyota will allow Hamlin to run a suped-up Camry while owning a Ford or Chevy team.
Additionally, with the closure of Leavine Family Racing after the 2020 season, there will be existing Toyota and JGR-affiliated equipment available for purchase or lease for this new team. Leavine Family Racing leased Toyotas from JGR for the 2020 season.
If this new team receives the same type of technical alliance that Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and JGR offered Furniture Row Racing from 2016 to 2018, it could mean that that Jordan-Hamlin Racing could be a top 15 team from day one.
Furniture Row Racing, unlike JGR’s current technical alliance with Leavine Family Racing, was able to purchase a higher level of technical support from JGR, including chassis support. Furniture Row Racing won the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in 2017 with current JGR driver Martin Truex, Jr.
If a “Space Jamlin” team can purchase the necessary resources, and Hamlin can broker this deal between his current team and ownership interests, Wallace will have the best opportunity of his career to find victory lane.
The big question on everyone’s mind is if this team will sport Jordan’s no. 23 on the car?
This is a good possibility. NASCAR Cup Series numbers are not owned by individual teams, but by NASCAR itself. However, there is tradition with how these numbers are used and held.
The last team to sport the no. 23 on a stock car was BK Racing from 2012 to 2018. BK Racing ran into some serious legal problems with debt, unpaid salaries, and fraudulent salaries, eventually reaching a U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
In other words, there will be no objections from NASCAR if Jordan insists on the no. 23 for his car.
Lastly, there may one be scenario which has not been explored for Jordan involving himself in NASCAR: