No. 23 in NBA, NASCAR: Michael Jordan designs Hamlin’s iRacing car

Denny Hamlin Racing
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CHARLOTTE – After having the in-person support of Michael Jordan for his last two NASCAR championship round appearances, Denny Hamlin will return the favor virtually to the NBA legend this year.

As a new owner in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Hamlin has two cars and some prime real estate to display in the national online racing series.

“If you’ve got cars with no sponsors and you can put anything on them you want,” he said during the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode.

So he approached Jordan, who attended last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the second time in five years, about helping design the scheme for – naturally – his No. 23 car.

“I always thought it’d be really cool to have a Jumpman car,” Hamlin said, referring to the Nike logo that has been synonymous with the Air Jordan shoe line for three decades. “And so I contacted (Jordan) and said, ‘Hey, is this something you’d be interested in?’ He says, ‘I’ll have a design within three days.’ ”

“This is right during Christmastime. And literally a day later he’s sending me all kinds of these renderings that he had his people go out and do.”

Casey Kirwan, who finished 10th in the 2019 eNASCAR points standings with one victory, will drive the No. 23 Jumpman car for Denny Hamlin Racing when the 2020 season begins Feb. 11 with Daytona International Speedway. Zach Novak won the 2019 eNASCAR championship last October in a finale that was broadcast live on NASCAR America (six iRacing playoff races will be broadcast this year on NBCSN).

This year will feature 40 drivers among 20 teams, many of which are owned by established teams and personalities in the NASCAR industry, as iRacing enters its second season with professional racing teams.

Hamlin, William Byron and Kyle Larson are new iRacing team owners in 2020, along with Stewart-Haas Racing. They join a roster that already included teams owned by Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing and NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton, Parker Kligerman and Steve Letarte.

Though Byron’s progression from iRacing to the Cup Series has been hailed as one of the greatest success stories in virtual racing, Hamlin also has a strong background in online racing dating to its infancy. While winning in Late Models on short tracks around the Southeast in the early 2000s, Hamlin also was an iRacing stalwart who caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who invited Hamlin to Daytona after competing against him online).

During his 2006 rookie season in Cup, Hamlin said it was a “huge benefit” to use iRacing as an introduction to tracks he hadn’t raced in real life.

“I was very good at iRacing back in the day; I sat on the pole and won some really big, prestigious races,” Hamlin said. “Now back then, there were like 5,000 people that raced online, and now there’s over a hundred thousand that do iRacing.”

NASCAR has put more marketing muscle behind iRacing as a result, hosting drivers for a full day of media promotions in Charlotte last month. During the visit, Hamlin invited more than a dozen iRacing drivers to his house for basketball and bowling before taking them to lunch.

It sparked a debate on NASCAR Twitter about whether iRacing drivers are deserving of attention commensurate with real-life stars.

Hamlin’s answer to critics of virtual racing’s legitimacy? “You’ve got to conform or die,” he said, noting he built friendships with iRacing contenders Ray Alfalla and Logan Clampitt by answering their questions about his races via direct messages on Twitter.

“They are honestly really good at what they do,” Hamlin said. “And hearing their stories (that) they actually never watched NASCAR until iRacing and now (they) watch NASCAR races every weekend. So it’s growing our sport. There is no question about it. Because where our sport has always had a challenge unlike other sports where you can go out in your backyard and simulate a game-winning shot that Michael Jordan made or a flop shot onto the green.

“That’s why it’s so hard for people to relate to our sport because they can’t simulate it. They’re not able to experience it in real life, and iRacing now gives them that platform to do it.”

During the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Hamlin also discussed:

–How he came close to organizing a drivers union five years ago;

–The input that drivers had in NASCAR’s new short track rules for this season;

Being a #GirlDad;

–How he outdueled Kyle Busch for the Daytona 500 victory last year;

–His outlook for the 2020 season.

To hear the podcast, click on the embed above or listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get podcasts.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.