NBA legend Michael Jordan is launching a new NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace, the only black driver on stock car racing's top circuit and the sport's most coveted free agent.
Jordan, currently the majority owner of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, announced Monday that he is starting the one-car team along with veteran driver Denny Hamlin.
The partnership was announced Monday night in coordinated social media posts by Jordan and Hamlin, with Wallace adding his own comment. The posts showed a picture of Jordan alongside a firesuit-clad Hamlin in a motorhome at a race track.
'Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few black owners,' Jordan said in his statement. 'The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.'
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.
The only other black owner on NASCAR's top circuit is Brad Daugherty, another former NBA player who, like Jordan, grew up in NASCAR-crazed North Carolina before playing collegiately for the Tar Heels.
The 57-year-old Jordan, who earlier this year pledged $100 million over 10 years for initiatives combating systemic racism, said the move into NASCAR is another step toward racial equality.
'I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for black people in racing,' Jordan said.
'Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it,' Hamlin said.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and 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.
'Eleven years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends,' Hamlin wrote. '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.
'Deciding on the driver was easy - it had to be Bubba Wallace.'
Wallace has gained national attention over the last several months as an activist.
The 27-year-old successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its events earlier in this pandemic-shortened season. Then in June, Wallace was believed to be the victim of a racist attack at Talladega Superspeedway when a rope was discovered in his garage stall that resembled a noose.
All 39 other NASCAR drivers rallied in support of Wallace before the following day's restart, collectively pushing his No. 43 car to the front of the grid in a show of solidarity.
Soon thereafter, an FBI investigation found that the item - which was described in the original NASCAR statement as a 'garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose' - had been there since 2019, when a white driver was using that specific stall.
Wallace, who did not discover the noose and wasn't the person who reported it to NASCAR or the FBI, faced criticism for the misunderstanding, but described himself as 'relieved' that it was not intended as a racist threat.
'I think we'll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been,' he said in a statement.
Wallace, who has cobbled together about $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made racial equality his platform, had already announced he was parting with Petty.
'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 wrote. 'I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I'm super pumped to begin this adventure with them.'
His partners include Door Dash, Columbia Sportswear Co., Cash App, and a personal deal with Beats by Dre. He's also got an affiliation with McDonald's.
Jordan and Hamlin purchased a charter for their team from Germain Racing that guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.
Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts over four seasons, but he has six career victories in the Truck Series. He's been hampered by mid-level equipment driving the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty and, until this summer, the team struggled to land sponsorship.
'Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he's ready to take his career to a higher level,' Hamlin said. '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.'
Wallace, a native of Alabama, has professed to being a major Jordan fan. In response to ESPN's documentary on the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls, Wallace tweeted: 'Man if The Last Dance didn't make you wanna run thru a brick wall after each episode then you ain't living right!!!!!'
In a statement, NASCAR welcomed Jordan to the series.
'His presence at NASCAR's top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport,' NASCAR said.
Jordan became a partial owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and bought the team outright in 2010, restoring the franchise to its original Hornets name. Hamlin has been a longtime season-ticket holder with court-side seats along the visitors' bench.
Jordan dabbled in racing before with Michael Jordan Motorsports. He owned an AMA Superbike team and had one win in 10 years. Jordan has twice traveled to the NASCAR season finale to watch Hamlin race for the championship. Hamlin, who's 39, is still seeking his first title.
'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 race team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.'
There's been speculation for months that Hamlin was organizing some sort of ownership group as he expects NASCAR's business model to become more favorable for team owners when the 'Next Gen' car is released in 2022. NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin works around the policy with Jordan as the principal owner.
'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.'
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