Could one of the most famous athletes in American sports history be getting involved in NASCAR?
As Bubba Wallace looks for a new team to race for in 2021 and Denny Hamlin could be looking to get involved in ownership of a Cup Series team, Michael Jordan’s name has been floated a second time as someone who could be involved in a venture that would include Hamlin and Wallace for the 2021 season.
Jordan was brought up during Fox’s pre-race show on Saturday ahead of the Bristol night race. Reporter Bob Pockrass said that Wallace was working on a deal to drive for a team at least partially owned by Hamlin next season. He was then asked about Wallace potentially driving a No. 23 car next year that was associated with Jordan.
Headlines tonight have me talking Bubba Wallace's possible 2021 plans (Denny Hamlin? Michael Jordan?), traction compound and fans for upcoming races. pic.twitter.com/hM6qhFQgiy
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) September 19, 2020
While Pockrass didn’t directly comment one way or another on any Jordan involvement with Hamlin’s potential venture, he did note that representatives for Jordan had not responded back to inquiries over the past week after quickly shooting down a previous rumor that he was interested in a NASCAR team ownership stake.
Additionally, representatives for Jordan have not responded to repeated requests from Yahoo Sports for comment this week concerning Jordan's potential NASCAR ownership role.
Wallace leaving RPM at the end of the season
Jordan’s name was first brought up as Wallace was negotiating to stay with Richard Petty Motorsports past the 2020 season and Jordan was mentioned as a potential investor into RPM. His representatives denied that on Aug. 27 to Fox Business.
“There is no truth to that rumor at all,” Jordan’s longtime spokesperson, Estee Portnoy, told FOX Business. “Michael Jordan is not considering an investment in NASCAR’s Richard Petty Motorsports.”
Since then, Wallace has said he won’t return to RPM in 2021 and the possibility of Hamlin getting into NASCAR ownership hasn’t gone away as two established Cup Series teams have said they are closing down at the end of the season.
If Jordan, a North Carolina native, wanted to get into NASCAR ownership, a venture with Hamlin and Wallace would make sense on multiple levels. Hamlin is friends with Jordan, who has previously attended races as Hamlin’s guest. And Hamlin is a longtime Jordan brand athlete. He has the Jumpman logo on his firesuit and wears Jordan brand driving shoes. And he also has been a longtime courtside season ticket holder for the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan owns the Hornets.
Wallace’s star has exploded
As the lone Black driver racing full-time in NASCAR, Wallace’s national profile has grown exponentially in the wake of protests against social and racial injustice in the United States. Wallace wore a Black Lives Matter shirt ahead of the Atlanta race following the death of George Floyd and he called for NASCAR to ban fans from bringing the Confederate flag to races in a CNN interview.
In the days after Wallace’s cable news appearance, NASCAR said that the flag had been barred from all of its tracks. That same night, Wallace drove a car that said “Black Lives Matter” at Martinsville.
In the weeks and months since the flag was banned from NASCAR tracks, Wallace has scored sponsorship deals from companies like the Cash App, Columbia, Door Dash and even a personal services deal with Beats headphones. All of those companies had no previous association to NASCAR.
With seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s impending retirement at the end of the season, Wallace is poised to become the most mainstream-recognized NASCAR driver and an enticing figure to associate with going forward.
But checkered flags are needed
While Wallace’s profile has grown off the track, it needs to flourish on the track for him to become a mainstream star with staying power. Richard Petty Motorsports has been mired as a midpack team since Wallace joined it full-time in 2018. Wallace has just nine top-10 finishes in over 100 career starts at NASCAR’s top level.
Simply put, Wallace needs better equipment to get a real chance at going to victory lane. And a Toyota-associated deal with Hamlin could provide that for him.
Hamlin drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, the best team in the Cup Series. Hamlin, 39, has the second-most wins of any driver this season and was one of three JGR drivers among the final four in NASCAR’s championship race in 2019.
As of now, JGR is positioned as the only Toyota-backed team in the Cup Series in 2021 as Leavine Family Racing is shutting down at the end of the season. A fifth Toyota car for Wallace with Hamlin’s involvement would be a way for Toyota to field another competitive car. Especially with the sponsorship that Wallace has recently obtained and if it could get a backer with financial might like Jordan.
Jordan would be a coup for NASCAR
If, somehow, Jordan became involved in a NASCAR team ownership group, his arrival would be the biggest get for the series in years. Outside of Tony Stewart, NASCAR’s most prominent owners are all eligible for Medicare. And while non-NASCAR fans may recognize Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick’s last names when they drive past car dealerships and truck rental facilities, neither of them are the cultural icon Jordan is.
The addition of Jordan to NASCAR’s ownership stable would immediately make NASCAR more marketable to a wider audience and help it continue to make inroads to audiences who may not have been interested in stock car racing in the past.
That would be huge for a series that’s seen years of ratings declines since the 2000s. And would be a huge boost for a driver who has the chance to be the recognizable star NASCAR has been searching for since Jeff Gordon retired five years ago.
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