By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Right in the middle of Monday Night Football, three-time Daytona 500 champion and the GOAT Michael Jordan announced they’ll be pairing up to start a brand new single-car NASCAR Cup Series team beginning next season with Bubba Wallace behind the wheel.
In fact, deciding a driver was the easiest part of the whole ordeal as Hamlin, who ironically had previous beef following the final lap of the 2018 Daytona 500, described how far Wallace has grown as a competitor and as a person.
“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and (MJ and I) believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin on Wallace. “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 describes this gigantic career move as a “unique, once in-a-lifetime opportunity” that’ll serve him well for the long haul.
“Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins,” said Wallace. “I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
The six-time NBA champion will be the principal owner of the recently acquired charter once owned by Germain Racing, who’ll close shop at the end of this season which leaves Ty Dillon without a ride. Hamlin on the other hand, will be the minority partner as he’ll still pilot Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry.
No stranger to auto racing, Jordan has been a fan of NASCAR since the 1980s with him being a fan of Richard Petty, Wallace’s current ride. He even dabbed on being an AMA Pro Superbike owner in the 2000s, so MJ has experience in operating a race team.
Jordan explained how excited he is partnering up with Hamlin and having Wallace behind the wheel as the Tar Heel icon will join the likes of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, Thee Dixon Sam Belnavis and Jonathan Cohen as black Cup Series car owners throughout the sport’s history.
“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,” said Jordan. “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.”
While a number, car manufacturer and sponsorships weren’t announced Monday night, Hamlin said that it has been a long-time vision of he and MJ becoming co-owners in the sport, but circumstances prevented it from being a reality until now.
“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,” said Hamlin. “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.”
This past Saturday, Hamlin didn’t want to confirm to the press about operating a Cup team because the conference was about the upcoming Bristol Night Race. However, he did describe in detail as to why such model didn’t appeal to him for the longest of time.
“I’m concentrating on what I’m doing on the race track right now, but certainly wouldn’t mind positioning myself on that side,” said Hamlin. “There are several different sides of management or what not that I would like to be a part of when it comes to NASCAR and the sport itself. It has to be the right opportunity and if it’s not the right opportunity, the right time then I won’t do it.
“Everything just has to line up perfectly for me to even remotely consider it. I do believe that the model will hopefully get better.
“Do I think it’s fixed? No, I think there is still some work to be done to make the model a viable business.
“You want a business that everyone wants to be a part of, not the ones that are fleeting. Certainly, I think NASCAR is trying it’s best to make the teams a little more healthy. I think that outlook towards the future is what’s interesting to me.”
Whether or not people saw it as sugarcoating, the reality is loud and clear. Sports greatest icon and one of NASCAR’s elite competitors paring up with the sport’s most well talked about driver will bring some buzz.
“We proudly welcome Michael Jordan into the NASCAR family, and look forward to watching Michael, Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace compete in 2021,” NASCAR’s 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.”
There’s another side to the story. That being the fate of Germain Racing, who’s been involved in NASCAR since 2004.
Shortly after the inevitable bombshell announcement, owner Bob Germain issued a statement about closing shop after scoring two Gander RV & Truck Series championships with Todd Bodine (2006 and 2010) and being involved on the Cup level since 2009.
“Being an owner in NASCAR for the last 16 years has been a thrilling adventure,” said Germain in a press release. “I have enjoyed the highs and lows of our sport. I’m extremely proud of what Germain Racing has accomplished at every level and I will be transitioning out of ownership with many memories and friendships.
“I appreciate the interest and offers made over the last couple of weeks and I am excited to see how the sport continues to grow in the future.”
Dillon has yet to issue a response on becoming a free agent in NASCAR as his four-year tenure, highlighted with two stage wins last year and all five of his top-10s, will come to an end.