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What Can We Expect from Michael Jordan’s New NASCAR Team?
Earlier this week, Michael Jordan announced that he will run a NASCAR charter team in 2021 alongside part-owner Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace as the driver.
The concept of a single-car team spearheaded by NASCAR’s only black driver caught widespread attention across the world of motorsports. Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, set out his plans to take advantage of NASCAR’s evolution and embracing of social change.
While the full details of this new team are set to be announced, here are four things we can expect from Jordan, Hamlin, and Wallace in 2021.
History Will Be Made
That’s right, history will be made when Jordan enters Bubba Wallace into the first NASCAR race under their team banner.
The legendary basketball star will become the first African American to hold majority ownership of a NASCAR team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott. Scott, also the first African American driver to compete in a NASCAR series, raced on a one-man team in his own car.
The iconic driver featured between the years of 1961 and 1973, starting 495 races. His win at the Jacksonville 200 in 1964 is the last time a black driver won a Cup Series race.
Jordan’s move has excited fans who believe it’s about time NASCAR became more inclusive. In a statement released on September 22, Jordan spoke about the opportunity to give black people a chance in auto racing. He also touched upon attending races as a child.
2020 has been an interesting year for the world’s foremost stock car racing championship. The banning of the Confederate flag at races, the FBI investigation into a noose found in Bubba Wallace’s team garage, and the suspension of Kyle Larson for the alleged use of a racial slur have all raised important questions about NASCAR’s future in its present form.
While Jordan, Wallace, and Denny Hamlin are unlikely to radically change the sport overnight, there is a sense of transformation in the air.
Bubba Wallace Will be a Star
Wallace was expected to enter free-agent status at the end of the current season, following the end of his contract with Richard Petty Motorsports.
But news of a deal to drive the #23 car under Jordan and Hamlin’s new team blew any other offer off the table, such as a chance to rejoin RPM with an ownership stake.
Not only will Wallace be the face of the first black majority-owned team in NASCAR, but he will avail of the iconic status and superstar profile that will come with his association to Jordan.
This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career. I’m grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) September 22, 2020
Naturally, this project will take a few years of commitment, at the very least, to come good. With Hamlin there in an advisor capacity — and the financial backing to support their huge ambitions — the trio could work in tandem to create something truly special.
As it stands, Hamlin is focused on competing with the likes of Kevin Harvick for the 2020 Cup Series crown. He will still be contracted as a driver under Joe Gibbs Racing next year and there is no conflict of interest in having ownership of a team while racing for another. Dale Earnheardt did the same with his DEI brand.
Whether Wallace can compete with the elite drivers in the Cup Series remains to be seen. But what is certain is that he will be one of the most recognizable faces of NASCAR by 2021.
The Sponsorship Floodgate Will Open
One of the other main talents of the former Bulls shooting guard lies in commercialism.
As the very best example of how to market a sports star, Jordan has built his personal brand up to staggering heights. From endorsements to his controlling stake in the Charlotte Bobcats, the legendary shooter has accumulated a wealth of billions over the years.
Jordan isn’t in this for the money, but for this NASCAR team to thrive, he is going to need sponsorship to recoup the circa $30 million that it costs to run a team in the Cup Series. Something almost certain to come without trouble.
The Jordan Brand is already involved in NASCAR as a sponsor of Denny Hamlin. Naturally, it will feature in some capacity in this new team. But looking further afield, you would expect some of Jordan’s longtime commercial partnerships such as Nike and Pepsi to show an interest in this new project.
More than that, there will be a group of potential sponsors who align with social change looking to get involved. And of course, those same sponsors who have shunned NASCAR in the past will now have a new market to target.
NASCAR Will Gain a New Fanbase
Jordan is a megastar. Hamlin is a superstar. And with the right setup, Wallace will, at very least, be a star in his own right.
Much like the interest in Tiger Woods throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he could bring a whole new swathe of fans to the sport. More than this, the presence of this new team could really help NASCAR with its efforts to promote the diversity of its brand. Everyone wins.
Jordan is still an iconic figure in sports and wherever he goes, he brings others with him. So to suggest his presence in NASCAR won’t draw attention is out of the question. He has unmatched star power.
And that might help with the dilemma with viewership. After all, it’s no secret that the racing brand has been losing fans in their droves. But earlier this year, Bubba Wallace’s efforts to successfully ban the Confederate flag from races led to a spike in viewership.
Overnight ratings for last night’s NASCAR Cup race from Martinsville on FS1 are up +104% over the comparable race last season.— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) June 11, 2020
Now, you could argue that it was a sensational, one-time event that led to a surge in folks tuning in. And you would be right. But another thing it proved is that a large number of those same viewers can become regular fans.
And surely that’s a good thing for the future of NASCAR.