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Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan to own NASCAR Cup team; Bubba Wallace to drive

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Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan will own a NASCAR Cup team that will have Bubba Wallace as its driver for 2021, Hamlin announced on social media Monday night.

Hamlin said details about the single-car team, including name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors, will be announced at a later date. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter.

The partnership of Hamlin and Jordan brings one of the most recognizable figures in sports to NASCAR. Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. He became majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in 2010.

MORE: Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is a “huge moment”

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to the races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting to me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan NASCAR
Michael Jordan high-fives the crowd before the 2010 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Jordan becomes the second Black car owner of a full-time team. Brad Daugherty, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, is a co-owner in JTG Daugherty Racing. Once the charter sale is completed, Jordan will become the first Black majority owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR’s premier series since since Wendell Scott owned and raced his own cars in the 1960s and ’70s.

NASCAR issued a statement Monday night on Jordan joining the series.

“We proudly welcome Michael Jordan into the NASCAR family, and look forward to watching Michael, Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace compete in 2021. Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan’s entry likely doesn’t happen if not for his friendship with Hamlin and Hamlin’s interest in being an owner.

Hamlin said last weekend that he has been interested in ownership “for a while.

I still don’t know how long my driving career will go,” Hamlin said. “There are several different sides of management or what not that I would like to be a part of when it comes to NASCAR and the sport itself. It has to be the right opportunity and if it’s not the right opportunity, the right time then I won’t do it. Everything just has to line up perfectly for me to even remotely consider it.

“I do believe that the (ownership) model will hopefully get better. Do I think it’s fixed? No, I think there is still some work to be done to make the model a viable business. You want a business that everyone wants to be a part of, not the ones that are fleeting. Certainly, I think NASCAR is trying it’s best to make the teams a little more healthy. I think that outlook toward the future is what’s interesting to me.”

This is the second team to be sold this season. Leavine Family Racing sold its charter and assets to Spire Motorsports. That gives Spire Motorsports two charters for the 2021 season.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps was asked before the playoffs about a driver owning another team. He said it would be allowed.

The short answer is yes, but they would need to abide by our guidelines that we would be satisfied that this is not just a shell for a fifth team,” he said.

Jordan has been a long-time motorsports fan and supporter of Hamlin. Nike’s Michael Jordan Brand first had a deal with Hamlin in 2011, putting Jordan’s “Jumpman” logo on Hamlin’s firesuit.

The Jordan Brand grew more than 50% in China for fiscal year 2020, approaching $1 billion in annual revenue, John Donahoe, president and chief executive of Nike, Inc., said in an earnings call with investor analysts June 25.

Jordan attended the 2019 Cup championship race in Miami in hopes of celebrating a Hamlin title. Jordan also attended the 2014 title race and was among the first to greet Hamlin after he exited the car that day after failing to win the championship.

Jordan told NBC Sports’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. about his interest in motorsports last November at Miami.

“I’m a big racing fan,” Jordan said. “Started off when I was a kid. Grew up watching (Dale Earnhardt Sr.), Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, which was the original 11 that I remember. Now I’m good friends with Denny Hamlin. We go way back. He’s a season ticket holder at the (Charlotte) Hornets (owned by Jordan). I spend a lot of time playing golf with him.”

Asked by Dale Earnhardt Jr. about any interest in becoming a NASCAR team owner, Jordan said: “No, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I love being a fan. I still understand the sport, but in terms of ownership, nah, I think I’m just going to sit back and watch it and support from afar.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full season in Cup. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

Wallace, the only Black driver competing full-time in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. He has been active in helping lead NASCAR through social changes, including the banning of the Confederate flag at series events and tracks.

Wallace previously stated he had offers from Richard Petty Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Bubba Wallace not returning to RPM after this season

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Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports after this season, the team confirmed Thursday.

The team issued a statement Thursday:

“Earlier this morning, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., informed Richard Petty Motorsports he will not be returning for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) season. We will complete the season with Wallace behind the wheel of the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

“We look forward to the next chapter in the making for the iconic No. 43 team. We will announce our new driver in the near future.”

MORE: Silly Season scorecard for 2021

Wallace posted a statement on social media, saying: “This was not an easy decision as I have nothing but the utmost respect for Richard Petty and his family, but I believe it’s time for someone else to take over the reins of the No. 43. … We’ve got nine more races together, and I hope we can finish the 2020 season on a high note.”

The news was first reported by The Athletic.

The 26-year-old Wallace is the only Black driver competing full-time in NASCAR’s premier series. Wallace is in his third season at Richard Petty Motorsports.

He has been active in helping lead NASCAR through social changes, including the banning of the Confederate flag at series events and tracks.

Wallace stated Aug. 9 that he had contract offers from RPM and Chip Ganassi Racing. Wallace has an ownership stake in Richard Petty Motorsports.

Wallace has made 103 career Cup starts and has nine career top 10s. His best finish this season is fifth at the Daytona oval in August. He finished a career-high second in the 2018 Daytona 500.

Wallace has amassed a collection of sponsors lately that could move with him, providing some sponsorship for another team for next season.

 

Kyle Busch seeks to put ‘frustrating’ season behind with playoff run

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The words flowed in such a seamless manner that it was jarring to hear how easily Kyle Busch spoke them.

Certainly we’re not a title frontrunner,” the two-time Cup champion said of his playoff hopes Thursday. “We’re not a favorite.”

This from a driver who sang: “All I do is win, win, win, no matter what” after his 200th career NASCAR victory last year.

But he hasn’t won this year in Cup. Busch has never gone so deep into a season without performing his victory bow in NASCAR’s premier series. Only Busch fans would label him a favorite entering the playoffs, which begin with Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

MORE: Southern 500 throwback paint schemes 

MORE: Southern 500 weekend schedule 

Yet, as Busch discussed the playoffs, his swagger remained.

“All you have to do is win a race in each of these rounds,” he said with casual conviction. “You do that and you put yourself right into the Championship Four.”

Simple enough. But that’s not how some drivers near Busch at the bottom of the playoff standings spoke to the media this week. They talked of minimizing mistakes and focusing on stage points as a way to advance.

Crew chief Adam Stevens and Kyle Busch seek to make the title race for a sixth consecutive year. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Busch views things differently. And he’s viewed differently.

Competitors are wary of what Busch could do in the playoffs even though he has as many finishes of 30th or worse (five) as he does top fives in the last 14 races.

Ryan Blaney labeled Busch a dark horse for the title.

Denny Hamlin said “it’s absolutely possible” that Busch gets hot in the playoffs and makes a title run.

“We even saw it last year,” Hamlin said. “He was the least championship favorite going into the final four and he won the race and he’s champion.”

Martin Truex Jr. notes that Busch “probably should have a few wins if it wasn’t for crazy things happening.”

Busch – who has made it to the championship race in each of the past five years – finds himself seeded 14th in the 16-driver field because of a season that has left him muttering.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s aggravating. It’s kind of a let-down. You’re wondering what’s wrong. You’re wondering where to look or what rock to look under to turn things around. It’s just crazy the way this year has gone for us and unforeseen circumstances really.”

Kyle Busch is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart and Darrell Waltrip for sixth on the all-time list for most consecutive seasons with a Cup victory. (Photo: Getty Images)

Busch admits his focus is on winning a race to keep his streak of consecutive seasons with a Cup victory alive. He’s scored at least one Cup win in each of the past 16 seasons. That ties him with Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart and Darrell Waltrip for sixth on the all-time list. Richard Petty owns the record at 18 consecutive years with at least one victory.

“It’s really important,” Busch said of his streak. “Think about it, it’s a 16-year investment … hopefully we can keep that going and get it to 17 and then to 18 or however many that I’m here. It would be nice if I’m able to keep winning races all the way through my career each and every single year that I’m out there.”

A crash ended Kyle Busch’s race early at New Hampshire in August. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Busch has cited the elimination of practice and qualifying this season as hurting him find that feel in the car. The early laps are often spent diagnosing the car instead of passing competitors. The result is Busch often is passed.

“There’s really not a lot of opportunity at some of these places for pit stops or chances to work on your car in the first stage to get those points,” Busch said.

“That’s probably been our biggest detriment this year is even if we did have an opportunity to start up front, we would fall out of the top-10 to get any of those points to have an opportunity to get points, not even stage wins, but to get points that matter.”

Busch’s 69 points in the first stage pale next to Blaney (135 points), Joey Logano (122) and Kevin Harvick (111). Nine of the other 15 playoff drivers scored more points than Busch in the first stage.

The woes have been many.

“This year has definitely been one of the biggest tests I feel like I’ve been through,” Busch said.

He admits this year has made him wonder “what’s the next thing that’s going to test your patience?”

But it’s also an opportunity. Busch came back after missing the first 11 races in the 2015 season when he broke his leg and won his first Cup title. Along with last year’s unexpected victory in the title race, maybe favorite is not a role Busch wants, anyway.

“Looking forward to the challenge,” he said of the playoffs. “If we can win it this year then there’s no reason why any year we should ever not have an opportunity to win it.”

Playoff standings 

2057 – Kevin Harvick

2047 – Denny Hamlin

2029 – Brad Keselowski

2022 – Joey Logano

2020 – Chase Elliott

2014 – Martin Truex Jr.

2013 – Ryan Blaney

2009 – Alex Bowman

2007  – William Byron

2005 – Austin Dillon

2005 – Cole Custer

2005 – Aric Almirola

2004 – Clint Bowyer

2003 –  Kurt Busch

2001 – Kyle Busch

2000 – Matt DiBenedetto

Saturday Cup race at Dover: Start time, TV channel, forecast

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NASCAR’s busy weekend continues with a Saturday Cup race at Dover. That will be the first of two races for Cup this weekend at the 1-mile speedway. Both races will follow Xfinity races there Saturday and Sunday.

Kevin Harvick could clinch the regular-season title as early as Saturday and claim the 15 playoff points that go with it.

Jimmie Johnson has a track-record 11 wins at Dover but hasn’t won there since June 2017 – his last Cup victory. He trails Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron by 25 points for the final playoff spot entering the Saturday Cup race at Dover.

Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Dover:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Actress Malin Akerman will give the command to start engines at 4:08 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:18 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup haulers enter at 7 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 9 a.m. Drivers report to their cars at 3:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. by Chaplain Andre Davis of the 436th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base. The national anthem will be performed by Senior Airman Brianna Cooper of the 512th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, at 4:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 311 laps (311 miles) around the 1-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 70. Stage 2 ends on Lap 185.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green follows at 3:30 p.m. and the race coverage begins at 4 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 3 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

TO THE REAR: Brennan Poole (failed inspection to times)

LAST RACE: Chase Elliott won the inaugural Cup race on the Daytona road course. Denny Hamlin placed second. Martin Truex Jr. finished third.

LAST RACE AT DOVER: Kyle Larson won last year’s playoff race in October. Martin Truex Jr. was second. Alex Bowman placed third.

TO THE REAR: Brennan Poole (two inspection failures), Joey Gase (unapproved adjustment), Daniel Suarez (unapproved adjustment), Garrett Smithley (impound procedure infraction). Smithley also must perform a pass-through penalty after taking the green on track.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Friday 5: A million to one shot never before seen in NASCAR

Matt DiBenedetto: “Crazy” to be making 200th Cup Series start

Dueling teammates: Jimmie Johnson, William Byron in playoff race

Corey LaJoie will not return to Go Fas Racing

Silly Season Scorecard 

Kevin Harvick close to clinching Cup regular season title

Tony Stewart: “It’s time to get Kyle (Larson) back in the sport.”

NASCAR seeks solution for overheating drivers 

Hendrick Motorsports honors Jimmie Johnson with Southern 500 schemes

Jimmie Johnson honors Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt with Southern 500 car

Jimmie Johnson honors Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt with Southern 500 car

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For his final Southern 500, Jimmie Johnson will pay tribute to his two fellow seven-time Cup Series champions.

The paint scheme for Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet will be a combination of schemes driven by Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

More: Southern 500 throwback paint schemes

Johnson unveiled the car on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download podcast.

The top of Johnson’s car will evoke one of Petty’s STP paint schemes from the 1970s, while the sides of the car are based on Earnhardt’s GM Goodwrench scheme.

“We’ve been sitting on the idea and obviously with it being the final year it’s so appropriate,” Johnson said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’m glad we saved it because it’s just fitting and right to do. To play with the scheme, it was split in a few different ways. Once I sent (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) the text on it, I think we were able to really fine tune the attributes that each paint scheme kind of had in them. Another tweak I just love is the 48 (on the sides) is leaning like the 3.”

The Sept. 6 race (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Darlington Raceway will be Johnson’s 24th career start on the track “Too Tough To Tame.” The Hendrick Motorsports driver has three wins there, including two in the Southern 500.