NASCAR: Denny Hamlin addresses Michael Jordan rumor

Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/23XI Racing via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan, 23XI Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/23XI Racing via Getty Images) /

Earlier this year, we spoke to Denny Hamlin about the rumor that ultimately led to him and Michael Jordan joining forces to start the 23XI Racing NASCAR Cup Series team two years ago today.

NASCAR Cup Series team ownership had been on the mind of Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin for quite a few years entering the 2020 season.

NBA legend Michael Jordan, a longtime friend of Hamlin, had often been an individual whom many believed would also enter the sport in that capacity, though for a number of years, he dismissed those talks and admitted he simply wanted to enjoy the sport as a fan.

But in the summer of 2020, a rumor emerged that Hamlin and Jordan would be joining forces and acquiring a stake in Richard Petty Motorsports along with Bubba Wallace, who was the driver of the team’s #43 Chevrolet at the time.

That obviously didn’t happen exactly as it was predicted, even though one source had called it “all locked in”.

But Jordan did join NASCAR as a team owner after all, joining forces with Hamlin to begin 23XI Racing exactly two years ago today (named at a later date), and the team did hire Wallace as the driver of their #23 Toyota for 2021, purchasing a charter from the now defunct Germain Racing.

And the reason it all unfolded the way it did was because of the rumor — and a desire to turn “fake news” into “real news”.

In the Netflix docuseries Race: Bubba Wallace, Hamlin explains that he read this article addressing the rumor and sent it to Jordan — though he debated doing so at the time.

“I wanted to run a business,” Hamlin stated. “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 made Hamlin start to think.

“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,” he 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.’”

And the rest is history.

Hamlin admitted that he never would have envisioned things playing out the way they did, in terms of him starting a new team with Jordan.

He did admit that he had been looking at purchasing a stake in an existing team, however.

“No, certainly not at the time,” Hamlin told Beyond the Flag in an interview conducted earlier this season. “I didn’t believe – you know, I was debating even sending it to him – but I was looking out really kind of for my own interests and looking to purchase a minority stake in a team that’s already been established.”

Without the rumor — and without the article covering the rumor — things never would have turned out the way they did.

“I never thought we would start a team from scratch, and that’s essentially what we did, which really hasn’t been done in a really long time,” he continued. “We have nobody, where do we start? We don’t have a building, where do we start? It’s very, very difficult to come to this sport and be competitive anyway.

“But when you have to start from scratch in a short amount of time, it leaves you very little room for error. So I never thought it would have happened. I mean, two years ago … never would have. It was not on my radar. But things happen quickly! Life comes at you fast!”

23XI Racing have since added a second charter, acquiring it from the now defunct StarCom Racing, and a second car, the #45 Toyota, for 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, though he has been sidelined since July with concussion-like symptoms.

Ty Gibbs has served as his replacement, though he recently moved over to Wallace’s #23 Toyota, with Wallace moving over the #45 Toyota for the playoffs since the #45 team is still in the hunt for the owner championship thanks to Busch’s win at Kansas Speedway back in May.

Wallace himself won the playoff race at Kansas Speedway earlier this month to lock the #45 team into the round of 12, despite the fact that he has already been eliminated.

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The team recently signed Wallace to a long-term extension and also signed Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick for 2024, though specifics on Reddick’s car haven’t been officially announced. Busch’s contract runs through 2023 and contains an option for 2024, but his future remains uncertain due to his health concerns.