Michael Jordan is starting a NASCAR team for one reason: Bubba Wallace

Illustration for article titled Michael Jordan is starting a NASCAR team for one reason: Bubba Wallace

Graphic: Photos: Getty

“Republicans buy sneakers too” is always going to be part of Michael Jordan’s legacy, and there’s no getting away from that, because Harvey Gantt’s not walking through the Senate door.


Jordan still isn’t vocal in the social conversation, but Citizens United established that money is speech, and this summer, Jordan started spreading it around in the fight against voter suppression.

As an NBA owner, Jordan getting together with future NASCAR Hall of Famer Denny Hamlin to start a race team is a perfectly normal business move. The picture Hamlin shared Monday alongside his partnership announcement sums it up: The man with 43 career Cup Series wins and a shot at this year’s NASCAR title is there, in his firesuit, the racing brains of the operation. Jordan is chilling in a comfy chair, looking all ready to puff a victory cigar, once he has a victory to celebrate:


But this isn’t just the case of a rich guy teaming up with a successful driver to launch a race team. Hamlin said that picking “a driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.” And Jordan, in becoming the first Black majority owner of a full-time Cup Series team since Wendell Scott owned his own car in the 1960s and 1970s, made clear that having Wallace on his team was part of the point of doing this.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

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And the way Hamlin describes it, Wallace’s emergence this season was a big part of why this is happening now. That emergence isn’t just as a social force, but behind the wheel, too. Wallace has had five top-10 finishes this season, and it’s time for him to move on to a team with more going for it than Richard Petty Motorsports, whose No. 43 car has won one race in 12 years in the top series. Aric Almirola, the previous driver of the No. 43, moved to Stewart-Haas Racing after posting six top-10 finishes in 2016. Wallace is likewise ready to show what he can do with Jordan’s money, Hamlin’s tutelage, and presumably support from the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing team and Toyota.

“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. Plus, Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it.”


Wallace already has shown what a powerful voice he can be. Jordan never really has, but in his current role, he doesn’t have to, because he’s already putting his money where his mouth is more than he ever did as a player.

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