NASCAR: Michael Jordan doesn’t sign checks for losers

Michael Jordan’s decision to become a NASCAR Cup Series team owner and hire Bubba Wallace as his driver is about nothing more than winning.

Following years of rumors and speculation, NBA legend Michael Jordan officially announced last September that he would become a NASCAR Cup Series team co-owner along with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin for the 2021 season and beyond.

The team would have a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and be called 23XI Racing, named after Jordan’s basketball number (23) and Hamlin’s racing number (11, roman numeral XI).

Bubba Wallace, who had spent the last three seasons competing full-time for Richard Petty Motorsports behind the wheel of the #43 Chevrolet, would be the driver of the team’s car, the #23 Toyota.

There is been a lot of talk about the arrival of this new team and the expectations for them in year number one, with Wallace himself setting the goal of winning two races and qualifying for the playoffs. But some of the controversy surrounding Wallace throughout the 2020 season has led to all kinds of criticism.

Such criticism includes the popular suggestion that he was only signed by the new team as some sort of a publicity stunt.

But Jordan, the six-time NBA champion and longtime NASCAR fan who had previously said that he wanted to stay away from team ownership, has one reason for finally making the decision to get involved in the sport as more than a fan, and that is winning.

“We don’t sign checks for losers,” Jordan said with a laugh before the season got underway. “I feel like he’s going to learn how to win. He’s got the talent. We would not have invested in him and picked 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 he probably will win at least a couple of races. If it’s more, I’d be elated.”

Through three races on the 36-race schedule, Wallace has recorded finishes of 17th place in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, 26th in the road course race at the same venue and 22nd at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Despite finishing no higher than 17th place so far this season, he sits in a 15th place tie in the championship standings.

So he is still in a provisional playoff spot, primarily due to the points he scored with his second place finish in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying race for the Daytona 500 and his finishes of seventh and third in the first two stages of the “Great American Race”, respectively.

He managed to lead a lap of the race and was in the lead pack for almost the entire night, but an unscheduled pit stop mired him one lap down late, and he was ultimately involved in the massive last-lap crash.

Wallace, whose career-high Cup Series finish is his second place finish in the 2018 Daytona 500 through 115 starts, last won a national series race at Michigan International Speedway in the Truck Series, where he is a six-time winner, back in 2017 driving the #99 Chevrolet for MDM Motorsports.

The 2021 season opened up with two first-time winners, something that hadn’t happened since 1950. Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports behind the wheel of the #34 Ford and Christopher Bell won the road course race for Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of the #20 Toyota.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron then won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he entered the season with just one career win to his name. A combined one win entering a season is the smallest total for any season’s first three race winners since 1949, which was the first season of the Cup Series when it was known as NASCAR Strictly Stock.

Can Bubba Wallace add his name to the first-time winner list this season with what would also be 23XI Racing’s first win, and if so, where and when will he do it?