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NASCAR deep dive: Michael Jordan has long history in motorsports ownership

Godwin Kelly
Washington County News
Michael Jordan waved the green flag to start the 2010 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

You would think the blockbuster Michael Jordan-Denny Hamlin-Bubba Wallace deal would have been presented in a mega-splash press conference with all the bells and whistles.

Instead, the new team for 2021 was announced on social media followed by a traditional press release dispatched to racing media around 9 p.m. Monday.

Here are the basics. Jordan, who is an NBA icon, is partnering with three-time Daytona 500 champion Hamlin to own a NASCAR Cup Series car that will be wheeled by Bubba Wallace.

Jordan will serve as principal owner of the new team with Hamlin as a minority partner while he continues to drive the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

They already poured a ton of money into the deal by obtaining the team’s NASCAR charter from Germain Racing, which didn’t have a sponsor for next year. Those terms were not announced, but Cup Series charters are worth millions of dollars.

Michael Jordan's motorcycle team wins at Daytona

There are a lot of forces at work here.

First, it's no secret Toyota wants a competitive fifth team like it enjoyed with Barney Visser (Furniture Row Racing) and driver Martin Truex Jr. from 2016-18.

Truex won 16 races and captured the 2017 Cup Series championship with an assist from Gibbs Racing. Visser closed shop after the 2018 season, citing lack of sponsorship.

Leavine Family Racing was designated to fill the void, but came up short. Team owner Bob Leavine has sold his 2021 Cup charter to a buyer yet to be revealed.

Tony Stewart and Hamlin were teammates at Gibbs Racing up until Stewart jumped ship to become co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. Hamlin paid close attention.

Now 39, Hamlin said this deal with Jordan will ensure he has a life in NASCAR after he hangs up the helmet.

Former Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler, left, Michael Jordan and Dale Earnhardt Jr. share a moment before the start of the 2007 NASCAR All-Star Race. Jordan was grand marshal that year.

Wallace, whose popularity has skyrocketed because of his voice in social issues, announced a few weeks ago he was leaving Richard Petty Motorsports. RPM was so desperate to keep Cup’s only Black driver, they offered him an equity stake in the team.

Wallace has attracted several sponsors in the last few months, which means funding for the 2021 team should be in good standing.

Michael Jordan talks about NASCAR team ownership

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace said. 

Bubba Wallace's racing and social saga in 2020

So why is Jordan getting into the NASCAR game?

Jordan and Hamlin have been golfing friends for a decade and that personal relationship opened the door to this deal.

The fact is Jordan has plenty of experience in the racing business. He owned Michael Jordan Motorsports, which fielded riders in the AMA Pro Road Racing Championship from 2004 to 2013.

He was a regular during Bike Week at Daytona International Speedway in those years, but nobody ever saw him. Jordan would watch his team from a suite in the grandstand, saying he stayed in hiding so he would not take the attention away from his team.

Jake Zemke won two American Superbike races at Daytona for Jordan in 2010 and finished third in championship points that season.

Michael Jordan Motorsports scores second Daytona victory

“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. “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."

Toyota will likely be the manufacturer. The car number will likely be 23, which was Jordan’s jersey number during his glory years with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

This is by far the biggest move in NASCAR’s annual Silly Season, which is far from over.

Car owner Rick Hendrick has not announced a replacement for retiring Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet. With Leavine Racing closing shop, Christopher Bell will move to Gibbs Racing, replacing Erik Jones, who has been working the phones for a ride.

Kyle Larson has indicated he wants to return to the Cup Series after being dismissed by Ganassi Racing earlier this season.

Larson, who drove the No. 42 Chevy, made a racial slur during a virtual race then was quickly shown the door. He has been piling up wins in open-wheel dirt competition this season to stay active and relevant.  

Chip Ganassi said Ross Chastain will take the wheel of the No. 42 in 2021.

RPM has not announced a driver to replace Wallace next season.

And with Germain Racing exiting NASCAR, Ty Dillon is a free agent for 2021. Dillon’s grandfather is Richard Childress, who owns a two-car Cup team.