NASCAR: How ‘fake news’ led to a massive chain reaction

Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

A false rumor about Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan led to a chain reaction that goes far beyond them simply starting a NASCAR Cup Series team.

During the summer of 2020, a rumor emerged that Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, who had long been interested by the prospect of NASCAR Cup Series team ownership, and NBA legend Michael Jordan would be joining forces to purchase a minority stake in Richard Petty Motorsports along with Bubba Wallace, the driver of the team’s #43 Chevrolet at the time.

Jordan had long stated that, despite being a huge fan of the sport, he had no interest in becoming a team owner and simply wished to enjoy it from afar, but one source called this “all locked in”.

The rumor was later shot down, but things didn’t end there.

Later in the year, Hamlin and Jordan announced the creation of a new team in 23XI Racing. They purchased a charter from Germain Racing, which folded after the 2020 season, to field the #23 Toyota for Wallace in 2021.

In the Netflix docuseries Race: Bubba Wallace, Hamlin discussed how this rumor, and a subsequent article covering it, ultimately led to the creation of 23XI Racing.

Hamlin debated even showing the article to Jordan. But when he did, a desire to turn “fake news” into “real news” kicked into high gear.

“I wanted to run a business,” Hamlin stated in the docuseries. “For me, team ownership is something that really piqued my interest. And then a news article came out, kind of a, uh…one that wasn’t really real, and it says well, ‘A current NASCAR driver, Denny Hamlin, and Michael Jordan looking to purchase a stake.’ And I think it was just a speculative article.”

It got Hamlin, who recently said that he was indeed looking into purchasing a stake in an existing team at the time, thinking about the possibility of joining the six-time NBA champion.

“I’ll never forget, I was on the ninth hole at my home golf course, and I’m like, ‘Should I send Michael this article? Let me get his temperature here.’ And I sent it to him,” the three-time Daytona 500 champion continued. “And he responded immediately. He says, ‘Haha’, you know, ‘Obviously, fake news. Not real. But if you want to make it real news, let me know.’”

But this “fake news” chain reaction goes far beyond just the NASCAR world.

In July 2021, one year ago today, Post Malone released a song titled “Motley Crew”, which was filmed at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The music video features appearances from both Hamlin and Wallace, and it also features 23XI Racing race cars.

Without 23XI Racing — and thus without the rumor and the article covering it — that probably doesn’t happen, Hamlin admitted.

“Probably not!” Hamlin told Beyond the Flag. “I would say probably not. That was a great collaboration and whatnot with NASCAR as well, kind of helped make that happen.”

Ironically, the four-turn, 2.0-mile (3.219-kilometer) oval was not actually on the NASCAR schedule in 2021 after being removed due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

“But there was a, they knew – Cole Bennett, one of the creative guys with Lyrical Lemonade – he was like, ‘I want to have a racing-themed video, so why not go to the racers to make it authentic?'”

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As for 23XI Racing, they have since expanded to two cars, adding the #45 Toyota for 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch in 2022. They purchased their second charter from StarCom Racing, which closed their doors after the 2021 season.