23XI Racing debuts in Sunday’s Daytona 500 in an all-new venture put together by NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and NASCAR veteran Denny Hamlin.
In an exclusive interview with FOX Sports, Jordan admitted that he was both excited and anxious about the upcoming 2021 season.
“I’m excited. I’m nervous, even though I’m not getting in the car. The thing is, when you are getting ready to play a big game, you’re nervous but you’re in control.”
He later added: “It’s a different kind of nervous. Nervous when I’m on the court — once again, I can go rebound. I can go shoot. I can play defense. Here, all I can do is cheer.”
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, Toyota Camry DoorDash
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
Jordan explained how he ‘grew up in NASCAR,’ recalling how his late father would pack up the family and drive to races at Darlington, Rockingham, Charlotte, Talladega and even Daytona.
“We would just go and spend the whole day. And from that day on, I’ve been hooked on NASCAR.”
Apparently, the prospect of becoming a team owner in NASCAR has been on the NBA legend’s mind for some time.
“I’ve thought about it so many different times because I had never seen a black owner or someone of color that really owned a team or could dictate what happened with their team. Obviously we haven’t really been prominent in this sport, but the opportunities have never been presented to you.”
Bubba Wallace becomes a voice for social justice and racial equality
Wallace rose to prominence outside of the racing world when he became an outspoken voice for social justice last summer. He led the charge to ban the Confederate Flag from NASCAR races. In doing so, he became the target of many right-wing voices, including former President Donald J. Trump. Wallace also ran a Black Lives Matter paint scheme at Martinsville, following the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis PD.
Darrell Wallace Jr., Richard Petty Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: NASCAR Media
“I thought it was a start for sure,” Wallace said of NASCAR’s push to be more inclusive. “For years, I have been asked how do we get more minorities in the sport? I’m like, ‘that’s a good question’ (and) that’s at the top of NASCAR’s list. And then the confederate flag rolled around. There is so much backlash against this flag from the minority group we are trying to attract. They are not going to be a part of this until it is gone. I said let’s make a stance, let’s put our foot down right now. We’re opening the door for a whole new family to come in and enjoy our sport.”
Hamlin’s hopes for the new organization is simply to show improvement over the season. “Our team needs to get better,” he said. “I just want to see from the start of this season to the end of the season that the arrow goes in the right direction.”
Jordan has a more ambitious goal in mind for Wallace and 23XI Racing.
“I feel like he’s going to learn how to win. He’s got the talent. We would not have invested in him if he didn’t have the talent to win. By the end of the year, I think he’s going to have an opportunity and probably win at least a couple races. If it’s more, I’ll be elated.”
Hamlin is in a unique position. He is not only Wallace’s team owner, but his rival on the track. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is going for an unprecedented third consecutive win in the Daytona 500, and he hopes Wallace isn’t the one in his way with the checkered flag in sight.
“I want to do something no one else has done … I hope he’s not in front of me on the last lap. It might get physical (laughs).”
It wouldn’t be the first time as the two drivers banged doors across the finish line in the 2018 Daytona 500 where Wallace narrowly bested Hamlin for second-place. Perhaps history will repeat itself in 2021, but this time with a race win up for grabs.