Bubba Wallace & MJ Join Forces
By Bob Pockrass
Bubba Wallace will drive for NBA icon Michael Jordan next year, as Jordan has partnered with NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin to start a NASCAR race team.
Jordan and Hamlin have bought a charter from Germain Racing, Hamlin announced Monday. Germain is selling its assets after sponsor Geico opted not to renew for next season. Jordan will be the principal owner of the team while Hamlin continues to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.
"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.
"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."
Although not announced, it would be expected that with Jordan as a co-owner, the car number would be 23.
"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," Jordan said.
Hamlin is the only Jordan Brand athlete in NASCAR and has courtside season tickets for the Charlotte Hornets, owned by Jordan.
"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 is expected to bring considerable sponsorship to the organization. The only full-time Black driver in the three NASCAR national series, Wallace has been at the forefront among NASCAR drivers in advocating for racial justice. Earlier this year, he called on NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its events and just a couple of days later, NASCAR announced a ban.
"This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career," said Wallace, the first full-time Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series in nearly 50 years. "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.
"I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them."
The organization also is expected to have cars from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota engines, a move that Wallace would feel puts him in a better position to compete for the playoffs and win races.
The 26-year-old Wallace has spent the last three seasons driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. He sits 23rd in the 2021 standings with seven races left in the season. He finished 28th in the standings his previous two years.
Wallace announced Sept. 10 that he would not return to RPM in 2021.
Wallace, who finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500, has three top-5s and nine top-10s in 105 career Cup starts.
He began his full-time NASCAR national series career at Kyle Busch Motorsports, where he won five races, and his move to Hamlin’s team will signal a return to Toyota. The Hamlin team is expected to get cars that are currently being used by Joe Gibbs Racing affiliate Leavine Family Racing, which has already sold its charter and assets to Spire Motorsports for next season.
Spire is a Chevrolet team and is expected to get cars and engines from Hendrick Motorsports next year, which left Toyota looking for a potential new partner for 2021.
NASCAR must approve the charter purchase, complicated because Hamlin drives for the four-car JGR stable. NASCAR President Steve Phelps has indicated that approval in this situation would be contingent that the car is not essentially a fifth JGR car, which would violate NASCAR’s four-team organization cap.