Netflix series a sign of Bubba Wallace’s growing influence beyond NASCAR

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bubba Wallace had the location selected, a friend to serve as photographer and a cover story to ensure that his proposal to Amanda Carter would be a surprise.

But things didn’t go as planned last July. 

The cover story worked. Wallace and Carter flew to Oregon to finalize Wallace’s line of clothing that Columbia Sportswear recently launched. 

They stayed a few extra days in the Pacific Northwest with NASCAR off for the Olympic break. Wallace hid the engagement ring in his golf bag — “The only bag I cared about on the trip,” he told NBC Sports.

He had alerted Carter’s sister of his plans. She had one request for her future brother-in-law.

“Make sure you say something and don’t just freeze and say, ‘Will you marry me?’’’ She told Wallace.

“That’s the easy part,” he responded. 

Wallace knew what he would say when the moment came. They stopped at Multnomah Falls to take a picture. That was the setup. 

But the spray from the falls splashed Carter. As she implored Wallace to “hurry up” and take the picture, he scrambled to get the ring from his pocket. 

Carter walked away from the spot. 

Wallace called for her to stop, dropped to one knee and …

“I just sat there and did the exact opposite her sister said, and I froze and didn’t say a word,” Wallace said. “I didn’t ask if she would marry me. I just had the terrified deer in the headlights look. I wasn’t terrified. I was excited. 

“She said yes.”

That Wallace’s proposal didn’t go as expected mirrors his racing career, which had early success sidetracked by lack of sponsorship before he moved to Cup. Even in NASCAR’s premier series, he struggled with a lower-funded team before he joined Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin at 23XI Racing and won at Talladega last season.

Wallace never imagined himself an activist until seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing. As the lone Black driver competing full-time in Cup, Wallace pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its events in 2020. He’s attracted new fans, but also has been booed at driver introductions by others. 

Wallace likes to say “What you see is what you get” with him, a sentiment he’ll share on his Nextflix docu-series that debuts Feb. 22. It’s just a part of Wallace’s growing influence as he heads into Sunday’s Daytona 500 and his second season with 23XI Racing.

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Fans hold a sign in support of Bubba Wallace at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2020. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Years ago, NASCAR claimed 75 million fans. Netflix had 222 million subscribers in the last quarter of last year. 

The potential reach for Wallace with the six-episode Netflix series titled “Race: Bubba Wallace” gives him and NASCAR the chance to be seen by people who might not be as familiar with the sport. The hope is to engage people as Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” Formula 1 series, which has been credited with increasing interest in that series in the U.S.

“I think it would be a success if we could get the people who aren’t my biggest fans to actually tune in to see what is Bubba Wallace, who is Bubba Wallace, really,” he told NBC Sports.

Erik Parker, who directed the series, wanted to show the challenges Wallace faced on and off the track. Parker told Wallace’s story through last season’s events while also going back to 2020 when Wallace moved to the forefront in the sport and the push for diversity, equity and inclusion.

That’s something that we, a lot of times, take for granted when we see somebody who is a public figure and they’re dealing with a lot of different people and a lot of different situations,” Parker told NBC Sports. “You’re not realizing what’s exactly happening on the inside and how they’re being pulled and what they’re doing to just maintain. How he does that is kind of inspiring in a lot of ways.”

Wallace’s reach stretches beyond a streaming platform. Columbia Sportswear launched the Bubba Wallace Collection of outdoor activewear Feb. 2 and marked the company’s first signature collection developed with a sponsored athlete. Wallace worked with Columbia’s design team on a lightweight puffer jacket, a special edition shoe, long sleeve shirt and crew neck sweatshirt, among other items.

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Bubba Wallace with 23XI Racing team members at Daytona. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

“It’s got the reds, the whites and golds in there,” Wallace said. “Gold is like a sense of royalty, so, to be able to provide people with that feeling is special because we all want that feeling in our lives. When they put a piece of BW wear on, the collection there, they can feel that, hopefully, and they can see that I thought about everybody in this collection, making them feel special.”

McDonald’s debuted a limited edition collection with 23XI Racing on Wednesday that will be available to purchase beginning Friday. Items included a custom bomber jacket, limited edition T-shirts and basketball shorts. All proceeds benefit the 23XI Institute, the team’s educational and professional development focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

While there’s much marketing around Wallace — he had a brief cameo in the McDonald’s Super Bowl commercial —  he still needs to perform. He finished 21st in points last year, missing the playoffs. 

Shortly after forming 23XI Racing, Jordan told NBC Sports in 2020, Jordan expressed his expectations for the team.

“My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go around the races and just go around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th,” Jordan said. “I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.”

While Wallace and the 23XI Racing bring in various sponsors and marketing opportunities, the team must balance on-track and off-track duties for the 28-year-old Wallace.

We work really hard on making sure that the focus is where the focus needs to be and that is him winning races and being competitive and doing what he needs to do to prepare and do his best on the track,” said Steve Lauletta, president of 23XI Racing, about Wallace. “We try to make sure that we don’t make that balance too far away from the track. 

“There are a lot of demands, and I think he handles them brilliantly. He knows how to be the Bubba Wallace that the brands have relied on and want to market to build their business. He knows when he has to be prepared for that. He hasn’t missed a beat with any of our (partners) last year and the new ones we brought on this year. I feel like we’ve got to continue to do that. 

“We can’t take the eye off the ball and have him be just the personality. He needs to be the playoff driver, the winning driver and, hopefully, the championship driver and those other things will continue to be there when that happens vs. the other way around.”

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Bubba Wallace is beginning his 10th season in NASCAR’s national series and his fifth full-time Cup season. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace is beginning his 10th season in NASCAR’s national series. He won his first Camping World Truck Series race as a rookie in 2013, taking the checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway. He won four times the following season and finished third in the points. 

Wallace moved to Xfinity in 2015. He finished seventh in points but was winless. He also did not win in 2016. Wallace lost his ride in 2017 when Roush Fenway Racing could not find enough sponsorship for the car and disbanded the team after 13 races.

Suddenly available, Wallace filled in for four Cup races in 2017 at Richard Petty Motorsports after Aric Almirola was injured in a crash at Kansas. When Almirola left the team after that season, Wallace took over the ride. He drove the No. 43 car for three years before moving to 23XI Racing last year.

Expectations were high a year ago for Wallace at 23XI Racing, even though it was the team’s first season. The partnership with Toyota and alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing fed the fervor. Wallace said before the season that his goal was two wins. 

As the team enters a second season and has added former champion Kurt Busch to be Wallace’s teammate, the goals are not as bold — at least publicly. 

NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash - Qualifying Heat
Bubba Wallace and team owner Denny Hamlin earlier this month at the Clash at the Colisuem. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Hamlin talks about both drivers making the playoffs instead of victory totals.

“I think we look at bigger picture,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “Bringing Dave Rogers on board (as performance director.), we actually went to lunch and we had a good heart to heart with each other. …  We talked about goals and expectations. I said top 10, to be consistent top 10.

“If you’re in the top 10, you’re in the playoffs. If you’re in the playoffs, you’re going to get some traction and some momentum. 

“For me, it’s just big picture. We take what the season will give us, not try too hard, not focus on two wins. Just go out and when the opportunities are right we capitalize.”

Just as he did last year at Talladega, becoming the first Black driver to win in Cup since Wendell Scott’s victory in December 1963. 

“I wish I could have been there today with him,” Frank Scott, son of Wendell Scott, told NBC Sports from his Danville, Virginia, home that day as family members celebrated in the background.

“But we were there with him. Not physically, but we were with him spiritually and emotionally. It was great, man.”

It was a special moment, but there are more races to run and that can mean more opportunities to win.

“I’m sure he’s not satisfied yet with where he is in spite of winning,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, about Wallace. 

Wilson said that the addition of Busch as a teammate and mentor, will make a difference for Wallace.

“Having Kurt on the shop floor right next to him and having Kurt as a mentor, as a confidant, as somebody that he can lean on is different than Denny because Denny is his owner first and foremost,” Wilson said. “Yes, (Hamlin) drives, but I think Kurt will help Bubba. I think Bubba will help Kurt. We expect that will help improve his consistency in his performance and we’re looking forward to seeing that.”

Boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather to field NASCAR Cup team

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Boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather is the newest owner in NASCAR, announcing that The Money Team Racing will make its debut this month at Daytona International Speedway.

The No. 50 car does not have a charter and will have to qualify to make the Daytona 500. Kaz Grala will drive the car. Tony Eury Jr. will be the crew chief. The team will race Chevrolets. Pit Viper sunglasses will sponsor the car at Daytona.

The team will run select races this season.

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Floyd Mayweather, attending an NBA game earlier this month, is the newest car owner in NASCAR. (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I love fast cars and I love to compete,” Mayweather said in a statement. “I know NASCAR will not be easy, but anything easy isn’t worth doing to me. With that being said, this move into auto racing seems to be a perfect fit for the Mayweather brand.”

Mayweather was a five-division world champion boxer. He retired in 2017 with a 50-0 record and 27 knockouts. In his career, he won world championships at super featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and light middleweight. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2021.

Mayweather joins Michael Jordan (23XI Racing) and PItbull (Trackhouse Racing) in ownership of a Cup team.

“This deal has been a long time coming and we are finally at the starting line.” said William Auchmoody, co-owner of the team and an associate of Mayweather. “Every time we thought we would be able to hit the track, something happened, including a global pandemic. One thing I have learned from Floyd Mayweather is that sometimes your best offense is a great defense and now we are here going to our first race at this year’s Daytona 500. We are very excited to be racing!”

StarCom Racing’s Michael & Matt Kohler and Bill Woehlemann have a vested interest in the team as well.

 “We are extremely thankful to TMTR for the opportunity to be a part of this team and are excited to join them on this journey,” Woehlemann said.

Friday 5: New Cup owners joining NASCAR but one thing is missing

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Since August 2020, Justin Marks started Trackhouse Racing, added Pitbull as a partner, witnessed the team’s first season and bought Chip Ganassi Racing – allowing Trackhouse to be a two-car operation in 2022 and have a charter for each car.

“It’s certainly been a learning experience,” Marks told NBC Sports about his first season as a Cup owner. “We’ve packed a lot of stuff into the last 12 months.”

Marks is not alone. The past 15 months have seen an influx of new Cup owners: Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan, BJ McLeod, Matt Tifft, Matt Kaulig, Brad Keselowski, Maury Gallagher, Pitbull and Marks.

Keselowski became the latest driver to move to the ownership ranks, joining Roush Fenway Racing to form RFK Racing. He’ll also drive the organization’s flagship No. 6 car this coming season.

My confidence in the sport and where it’s going increased – or has been increased – in the experience I’ve had so far, so that’s been a real positive for me,” Keselowski said. In a lot of ways, it’s reinvigorating. There were a lot of things happening behind the scenes that I didn’t know about that I think are sources of optimism.”

Gallagher, whose GMS Racing team announced in June plans to go Cup racing in 2022 with Ty Dillon, announced this month that it had purchased majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports. The new team will be called Petty GMS Motorsports.

Kaulig Racing will compete full-time in Cup next season for the first time – after winning its first Cup race this season while running a partial schedule. 

The influx of new ownership was bound to happen, as the core group of Cup owners grows older. Roger Penske is 84 years old. Joe Gibbs turned 81 in November. Jack Roush is 79. Richard Childress is 76. Rick Hendrick is 72.

Among the new group of owners, most already were in the sport. Only Michael Jordan and Pitbull came from outside NASCAR, although both were fans.

Hamlin said that the sport can use more owners coming from outside it. 

“What we want is the businessmen up in New York, or LA, or wherever they are, to say, ‘Why aren’t we owning a NASCAR team?,’” Hamlin said. “We have to create that interest somehow. But the moment in the past where you opened up your books to someone who wanted to invest in your team, they shut it after one page because it didn’t make sense. That’s been no secret.

“I think that NASCAR is trying to address that with the new car. We’ll see where the (next) TV (contract, which expires after the 2024 season) goes in the next 12-24 months, but ultimately, if you want to grow this sport, you’ve got to have people knocking on the door wanting to be a part of it. So, that’s where the next group is going to have to come from.”

But those outside the sport are not going to come to NASCAR for small investments. Medallion Corp. stated in its SEC filing that it sold its interest in Richard Petty Motorsports for $19.1 million to Gallagher.

While not to belittle the cost, it pales compared to other sports. Charlotte, North Carolina, will see its Major League Soccer team debut in February after reportedly paying a $325 million expansion fee.

Fenway Sports Group, a part owner of RFK Racing, reached a deal last month to reportedly pay $900 million for controlling interest in the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Team values in NASCAR have remained low because it wasn’t until 2016 that the charter system was introduced.

“We believe we made the team owner model more reliable, more stable, more open, more open to new investors, more capital to come into the sport,” former NASCAR Chairman Brian France said in announcing the charter system Feb. 9, 2016. The charter system was extended in 2020 to go through the 2024 season.

Value is predicated on supply and demand. Front Row Motorsports purchased a BK Racing charter in bankruptcy court for $2.08 million, including team assets, in Aug. 2018.

Hamlin acknowledged last week before the NASCAR Awards that 23XI Racing recently paid about $13.5 million for a second charter. 

Gallagher looked at purchasing the BK Racing charter in 2018. Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, put in an initial bid of $1.8 million for the charter and assets. They didn’t see a value in increasing the bid because of all the other costs associated with owning a Cup team at the time.

“I think the problem with NASCAR has been the lack of a charter, the lack of equity in a franchise … because anybody could show up in any given Sunday and get in,” Gallagher told NBC Sports. “Now it’s very regimented, which is good. Will (charter prices) go up? I believe so.

“Professional sports, who knows where the ceiling is with football, baseball? … I think the next thing is the sport has to make money, as these teams (in NASCAR) have to make money. You don’t have a lot of public disclosures, so you don’t know the numbers, but if I had to speculate, it’s not been a very lucrative business for even the people at the top, particularly in the last four or five years.”

Hendrick, whose teams have won the past two series championships, sees some interest in Cup ownership as charter prices have increased due to recent demand.

“There’s a bunch interested and that’s rewarding,” he said of potential new owners. “I think that’s going to be good for the sport.”

He also knows it is not easy coming into the sport.

“You’ve got to have the right talent like Kyle (Larson),” Hendrick said of the 2021 Cup champion. “When you look at our organization, you’ve got Jeff Gordon there, you’ve got Chad Knaus. It’s hard to go out and hire those people. You can hire people, but when you put them together it doesn’t mean it’s going to work.”

New owners bring new ideas. It doesn’t mean every idea will work, but it also can help broaden a sport’s reach. That’s what Marks wants to do with his team.

“We’re going to start doing partnerships, significant partnerships, outside of NASCAR,” he said. “That means building a scalable and diverse sports brand that starts penetrating a lot of different markets – with the goal of creating a platform of popularity and value to partners.

“That means content media. That means being in music, being in other sports, aligning with other significant personalities.”

Marks admits some of his ideas are “so outlandish that I want to try to make them happen.

“I bring some ideas to the group, and they look at me like, ‘You are so crazy.’ But, every once in a while, one of them works. Like maybe it’s the (biggest) Latin music star (Pitbull) in the world coming to NASCAR.”

2. Return to dominance

This past season marked the first time since 2015 that Chevrolet was the winningest Cup manufacturer. Chevy teams won 19 of 36 points races this past season. That came after a three-year period that saw Chevy win only 20 of 108 Cup points races.

Part of the change can be traced to the push for Chevrolet teams to work closer together.

Dr. Eric Warren, who was at Richard Childress Racing at the time and now is the director of GM’s NASCAR programs, got together with Jeff Andrews at Hendrick Motorsports and Tony Lunders at Chip Ganassi Racing to form a tighter coalition between those three teams.

“We we really working close to try to build the 2020 ZL1 1LE, which turned out to win the championship the two years it raced,” Warren told NBC Sports. “Part of that was learning each other and all the trust and development. It took a little of time to get everybody to trust each other on the aero stuff.

The rules (limiting wind tunnel time for teams) kind of changed. Wind tunnel was important. You had a certain amount of time that you had to maximize. … Then we got the crew chiefs going off that side of it. That kind of built a little bit of the foundation.”

Also, Earnhardt Childress Racing engines and the Hendrick Motorsports engine department began to work together.

The result was the 19 Cup races won by Chevy this past season came from six different drivers, led by Cup champion Kyle Larson’s 10 wins and Alex Bowman’s four.

Should Chevy’s winning ways continue in 2022, it could prove lucrative for teams under a new incentive structure with the manufacturer.

“Three years, we were struggling,” Warren said. “Toyota and Ford were winning 18, 19 races. We’re winning five, seven, whatever. It got to a point that (with) our continued spend for all of the partners (that) we need to have a little more focus on the incentive. So, there is the push to get the right drivers and right engineers and all those things.”

The incentives are the same for each team. Warren said previously that organizations would get a set amount from the manufacturer per team. This plan changes the focus.

“It was like, ‘We have a lot of competitive Chevy teams now. Do we really care if we have one more team?,’” Warren said. “Now, it almost becomes a decision by the teams: ‘Is this team going to give us more chances to get the incentives?’”

Warren said the program is “not anything uncommon. It’s just a different approach.”

3. Looking ahead

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said earlier this year that he was looking at the potential of moving his race team to Nashville, Tennessee.

Marks told NBC Sports that the purchase of Chip Ganassi Racing changed those plans. The team will continue to be run out of Nashville, which is where Marks lives, but there are no longer plans to relocate the entire organization to Tennessee.

“Building a race shop in Nashville was something I was very, very focused on doing when there were 12 (employees) and we were just trying to find a charter,” Marks told NBC Sports.

“When the Ganassi opportunity came, all of a sudden I’ve got a shop, I’ve got millions of dollars of equipment and 125-plus people. You can’t pick that up and move it. With our relationship with Chevrolet and the fact they are building this tech center (near Charlotte), proximity is important.

“So the vision changed. Nashville is very important to our company. We’re exploring ways to scale our presence in Nashville. I don’t think, with how fast we have grown and where Trackhouse is right now, that you will see the core of our competitive operations based here.”

So, is Marks satisfied with just being a two-car operation beginning with the 2022 season?

“Oh my gosh,” he quipped. “You can’t ask me that question. I haven’t even gotten on the racetrack yet with two.”

He said the growth to two cars in the team’s second year does not alter his five-year plan for the organization. When he looks to the future, though, he doesn’t see a four-car operation for Trackhouse. Just three cars.

“I think the sweet spot is three (teams), but we got to two really quickly,” he said. “There are absolutely zero plans in place for a third car.”

What makes having three cars better than four cars for him?

“I think when you get to four, you start to get an operation so big that it’s difficult to manage,” he said. “It’s difficult to keep a cohesive culture and a motivated workforce. I think it’s difficult because then you’re just (got) a lot of people and it’s a big operation.”

4. More Racing

William Byron, coming off his best Cup season, says one way he looks to improve as a driver is by racing more often.

“Honestly, for me, I want to try to race more outside of NASCAR,” Byron said. “I think just the hunger is there to get better for our team.

“It was different this year. I didn’t leave (the season finale at) Phoenix and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m ready for a break.’ I left, and I was like, ‘Let’s go to the next race. Let’s figure it out.’ I think with (crew chief Rudy Fugle), I think we are just ready to go to the next event.”

Byron won a race and had a career-high 12 top-five finishes and 20 top-10 finishes on the way to placing a career-best 10th in the points in 2021. He won at Homestead in the season’s third race, making him the first Hendrick Motorsports driver to score a Cup victory this past season.

As for what that type of racing Byron wants to do? He has one race planned.

“I’m doing a karting race (this week), and I like those a lot,” he said of an event at Go-Pro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina. “I was racing out there with (IndyCar driver) Will Power the other afternoon.

“I think just doing some other stuff that I enjoy. I don’t want to go do any huge races, but it’s fun to just maybe go race the kart sometime or maybe go do a Trans-Am race or something.”

Cup champion Kyle Larson looks to get Byron to race a midget car on dirt, just like Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott has done since last year.

“He’s an amazing racecar driver,” Larson said of Byron. “I get to see how dedicated he is to getting better. He puts in more effort than anybody I’ve ever seen.

“I feel like if he did try (a midget car), he would jump in headfirst at it and really try to get good at it, and I believe he would get good at it. Who knows, someday you may see him in a car.”

Maybe.

5. Five seasons later

Jimmie Johnson’s seventh and final Cup championship came in 2016. In the five seasons since, there has been a different champion each year: Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Joey Logano (2018), Kyle Busch (2019), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021).

Twenty-seven drivers have won at least one race in the past five seasons. Here is a look at the drivers who have won the most Cup races in that span:

24 — Martin Truex Jr.

23 — Kevin Harvick

21 — Kyle Busch

17 — Denny Hamlin

15 — Kyle Larson

14 — Brad Keselowski

13 — Chase Elliott

10 — Joey Logano

7 — Ryan Blaney

6 — Alex Bowman

5 — Kurt Busch

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Talladega Takeaways: Winning as a car owner new emotion for Denny Hamlin

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ten months ago, Denny Hamlin stood in his team’s new race shop as 23XI Racing’s first car arrived.

Among the key issues to be dealt with that day: Getting the shop’s paint booth serviced and certified, and determining how many parts and pieces needed to be order for the team’s maiden season.

So, when the car came to the shop that day, there was little time to contemplate the significance of the moment before it was back to the many details that needed to be addressed.

When Wallace won Monday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway for his first victory and the first for the team, Hamlin felt a new emotion: Winning as a team owner.

“It’s going to take a minute,” Hamlin said of how he felt as he walked under an umbrella after NASCAR called Monday’s race because of rain. “It’s so much to process at this point. I’m not sure. This is going to be days’ worth of thoughts that will go through my head.”

It has been a whirlwind for Hamlin since he and Michael Jordan announced on Sept. 21, 2021 that they were forming a Cup team with Wallace as the driver.

“I knew it was going to be a process, but I maybe underestimated the process in which it takes to ultimately be a top-tier team and the time it takes to get all the (personnel) that you need,” Hamlin said Sunday morning at Talladega Superspeedway.

That process includes expanding 23XI Racing to a second car for the 2022 season. That meant hiring another driver (Kurt Busch), more personnel and acquiring a charter while also putting in plans to build a shop that will allow the organization to expand to four cars someday.

“It’s such a tough balance of trying to figure out how you can be fast and competitive and still run a legitimate business,” Hamlin last weekend. “That’s the tough part.”

The best parts, though, come with winning.

That’s what Jordan sought when he partnered with Hamlin.

“My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go … around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th,’” Jordan told NBC Sports and Fox Sports in an exclusive interview in September 2020.

“I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.”

Monday, Jordan got to celebrate his first win as a car owner.

“He’s as excited as I am,” Hamlin said of Jordan. “Even though I probably do most of the work on the ownership side, he’s emotionally invested in this team as much as I am.

“This would not be possible without him. This would not be possible without the support of Toyota. There’s so many different people that said ‘Okay, you want to do this? All right, we’re going to stand behind you.’

That to me is what makes it so gratifying, is that when you have crazy dreams and you want to build something, that you have people that believe in your vision.”

Much work remains.

“We’re still again in the building stage,” Hamlin said after watching Wallace celebrate the win. “We’re still in the growing stages of our team.

“This is just a huge morale boost, a huge confidence boost for Bubba. There’s a lot of positives that will come out of this that will linger for a very, very long time.”

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There will be those who say that a NASCAR playoff race should never end early.

Two of the drivers who entered Talladega below the cutline – Alex Bowman and William Byron – each were asked about the prospect of a playoff race not going the full distance ahead of the event.

They weren’t bothered by the notion.

“I think it’s the same as every week,” Bowman said. “Any week of the year it can be expected by stuff like this (rain in the forecast). That’s just what we’re faced with (Sunday).

“I don’t think it’s any different than a regular season race being impacted by it. It would be tough to see the championship race impacted like that. That’s a hard position. Obviously, we can’t race in the rain. Just part of it.”

Last year, the Texas Cup playoff race was started on a Sunday and finished on a Wednesday because of persistent rain.

“Nobody wants to be here until Wednesday or Thursday like we were at Texas last year,” Bowman said.At some point, there’s only so much you can do with a weather situation that you’re given.”

Said Byron of his thoughts about a playoff race ending early: “I don’t really worry about it too much. You’re always kind of a ticking time bomb at Talladega, so I feel like you just race every lap as hard as you can.”

Byron finished 36th at Talladega and Bowman was 38th. They both head to Sunday’s Cup playoff cutoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC) outside the cutline.

Byron is 44 points from the cutline. Bowman is 52 points from the cutline. Both, essentially, are in a must-win situation to advance to the next round.

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Talladega became the first NASCAR track to have three first-time national series winners in the same weekend.

There had been three different first-time winners on the same weekend previously, but those were split among two tracks. Never had it happened at the same track until this past weekend.

Tate Fogleman scored his first career win in Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Brandon Brown won his first Xfinity Series race Saturday. Bubba Wallace completed the sweep of new winners with his first career Cup victory Monday.

The last time there were three different first-time series winners on the same weekend (but at different tracks) was August 2016. Michael McDowell won the Xfinity race at Road America. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race at Michigan. Kyle Larson won the Cup race at Michigan.

Kurt Busch to drive second car for 23XI Racing in 2022

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23XI Racing announced Friday night that Kurt Busch will drive a second car for the team, joining Bubba Wallace as a teammate in 2022.

Busch will drive the No. 45 Toyota Camry. Monster Energy joins Busch as sponsor.

“I cannot begin to express my gratitude for this opportunity,” said Busch in a statement from the team. “Racing to win is what I live for. Helping to continue developing a new team, alongside Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin, and Toyota is exactly what I want to be part of. Winning is important to 23XI, it’s important to Monster Energy, and it’s important to me. That is our goal.”

The team did not state if it had acquired a charter for Busch’s car for next season. The team stated that additional partners and team personnel would be announced at a later date.

“When we started this team, our vision was to grow to a multi-car organization. To be able to expand in just our second year is a huge step for us,” Hamlin said in a statement. “Kurt brings a wealth of knowledge and a championship mindset to our team, and will be able to help us grow stronger and more competitive each and every week.”

Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, has 33 career series wins. The 43-year-old in his third year with Chip Ganassi Racing and will be in the playoffs. He’s won at least one race in each of the past eight seasons.

Next season will be Busch’s 22nd full-time season in Cup.

His move to 23XI Racing has been expected for some time. His ability to work with younger drivers is seen as a plus to help Wallace develop. It’s a role Busch has had with Ross Chastain at Ganassi.

Next year will mark the first time the No. 45 has been used since 2008. It had been a number used by Petty Enterprises and was the number Adam Petty used in the Xfinity Series before his death in 2000. Kyle Petty issued a statement with the 45 being brought back to Cup:

“The number 45 is a special number to myself and the entire Petty family. We look forward to seeing that number back on the race track contending for race wins and championships. Seeing the number compete again, under the 23XI Racing banner, with Kurt behind the wheel, is exciting for us. While the number will always hold many memories of Adam, we know Kurt, Denny and the entire organization will represent it well. Victory Junction – a place of empowerment and inclusion for kids with chronic and serious medical illnesses envisioned by Adam – are proud to see the 45 car return and where this team will take it on the track.”