On Friday morning, the 23XI Racing team unveiled the long-anticipated news of its manufacturer and technical partner, Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing.
The Chicago Bulls-esque red, white and black Toyota Camry featured Jordan’s No. 23 on the doors and the 23XI Racing team logo on the hood and quarter panels, hopefully to be replaced by sponsorship before the team makes its NASCAR Cup Series debut in less than four months at 2021 Daytona Speedweeks.
Lost in the excitement of seeing Michael Jordan’s car with Michael Jordan’s number was the real story, a technical alliance that gives MJ’s team — and its driver — a chance to compete.
Joe Gibbs Racing is the flagship organization of Toyota Racing Development and the team Hamlin has driven throughout his 16-plus-year Cup Series career. The TRD relationship includes an agreement with JGR that allows 23XI Racing to purchase equipment and share technical information.
“My main goal for 23XI Racing is to be competitive for a championship as soon as possible,” Jordan said in a statement. “Our partnership with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing gives us the equipment, resources and expertise to do it.”
With Joe Gibbs Racing already fielding the maximum of five Cup Series teams, 23XI racing had to prove to NASCAR it wasn’t simply trying to skirt the rules by operating as a fifth team. 23XI will operate from a shop owned by Germain Racing, which is going out of business.
Mike Wheeler, who led Hamlin to five wins over three seasons including the first of Hamlin’s three Daytona 500 victories, will be crew chief for the No. 23. Wheeler this past season was the competition director for Leavine Family Racing, a team aligned with Gibbs that is closing.
“The way the rule is meant to be interpreted is it’s not a fifth JGR car, so they’re not providing services to us for free,” Hamlin told reporters on Friday afternoon. “They are not providing us the cars for free and everything is independent. We are not using any of their staff. It’s our own organization, we have our own payroll, our own vendors that we have to pay, so this organization stands on its own.”
And while Jordan said he wants to compete for a championship as soon as possible, Hamlin knows expectations should stay reasonable at the start of the 2021 season.
“He understands this is going to be a building process,” Hamlin said of Jordan, winner of six NBA championships with Chicago. “Winning is a broad term. Your odds of losing are much greater than they are of winning. Is he expecting to win in the first half of the season? I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. But I do believe he thinks we can go out there and win in our first year.”
Hamlin likened the startup effort to 2009 when Tony Stewart became co-owner of a winless Cup team that scored four victories in Stewart’s first season as owner-driver. In its third season, Stewart-Haas Racing won the Cup title.
“This is a lot like what Tony did,” Hamlin said. “When he came over there, he brought winning and relevance to it, and all of a sudden, very good people wanted to work for them. And they started to build, and started to build, and next thing you know they’ve got a championship organization.”
Hamlin said Wallace is capable of having more success than he has had thus far in the Cup Series because he’ll have better equipment at his disposal.
“There’s no doubt that Bubba has outperformed the equipment he’s had, week in and week out,” Hamlin said on “CBS This Morning,” sitting alongside his driver — with both sporting Air Jordan sneakers — as he spoke of Wallace’s four seasons in the Chevys of Richard Petty Motorsports.
Then, referring to Wallace’s 2013-14 seasons in the Truck series driving for Kyle Busch, Hamlin added, “This is a great opportunity for him to return to the Toyota family, a family he was with early in his career, and it’s an exciting partnership for everyone.”
Added Wallace: “I’m still processing it every day. … I’ve just got to make sure I do my part and deliver each and every time out next year.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.