Six-time NBA Finals MVP Michael Jordan is teaming up with NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin to form a new team for 2021, and Bubba Wallace is on board to drive for the them. Jordan and Hamlin purchased the Cup Series charter from Germain Family Racing, which currently fields driver Ty Dillon in the No. 13.
Jordan will serve as the principal owner of the team with Hamlin acting as a minority partner while he continues to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 11 Toyota. The NBA legend is now the first Black majority owner of a full-time race team in the NASCAR Cup Series since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott owned and raced his own car from the 1960s into the early 1970s.
Jordan released a statement on Monday night:
"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."
Wallace also released a statement, saying it's a "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," Wallace said on social media. "I'm grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I'm super pumped to begin this adventure with them."
Wallace, recently announced he would be leaving his current team, Richard Petty Motorsports, at the end of the season for a better opportunity. We now know that opportunity is a multi-year deal to be the only driver on the Jordan/Hamlin led team.
Wallace, the first full-time African American Cup Series driver in decades, has been an important voice off the track for NASCAR this season. During a TV interview earlier this year, he pushed to the sport to ban the Confederate Flag at events. The sport also rallied around him after a rope fashioned as a noose -- which turned out not to be a hate crime after an FBI investigation -- was discovered in his garage. Wallace also drove a car with 'Black Lives Matter' as the primary sponsor. He has brought in millions of dollars in sponsorship, which helped align the deal with Hamlin and Jordan.
NASCAR also released a statement welcoming Jordan into the sport.
The team name, car number, manufacturer and other details will be announced at a later date. However, if Jordan wanted to use his legendary number 23, it would be available. The number was last held by BK Racing in 2018 before the team sold their charter to Front Row Motorsports to run a different number. NASCAR owns the car numbers and could provide it to this new team by request. As for the manufacturer, Hamlin has a strong relationship with Toyota, whom he's driven for over a decade.
The news comes on the same day Ross Chastain was pegged to fill the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing, an offer that was originally extended to Wallace. Kyle Larson, who was released from that ride after using a racial slur in an iRacing event in April, remains a free agent alongside Erik Jones, who currently drives the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing, but is set to be replaced by Christopher Bell at the end of the season.
There is still one major ride left to fill, and that is Jimmie Johnson's. The Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 will be vacated at the end of the season when Johnson retires. Both Larson and Jones have been rumored to be candidates.