NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

4 Burning Questions: Like Mike

What?

Oh, boy.

Yes. Michael Jordan, arguably the most decorated athlete in the past 40 years, is the newest NASCAR Cup Series owner.

Jordan enters the sport with a number of advantages. He’s had a long and fruitful relationship with a number of huge potential sponsorships, most visibly McDonald’s and Nike. He’s entering the sport with a co-owner, Denny Hamlin, who has been around winning race teams for 15 years now and represents an automatic in to a Joe Gibbs Racing alliance. At a Forbes-reported net worth of $1.6 billion, he’s the second most valuable owner in NASCAR, with just Roger Penske above him.

So why is Jordan entering NASCAR?

NASCAR is a great place to lose a lot of money very quickly. Literally every year now, a smaller but long-running Cup team decides to call it quits, in part because NASCAR’s financial system is a shell game. It usually just isn’t a good investment to make.

But I don’t think Jordan cares about the money. He hasn’t for the last couple of years. He doesn’t need it; he could literally go live on an island the rest of his life. No, Jordan is in this for one word: legacy.

Jordan agreed to participate in The Last Dance not because he wanted a truly critical movie on his career. It was never going to be; the behind-the-scenes footage had to be green-lit by Jordan, and his production company worked on the film. No, the movie was designed for literally everybody watching it to remember how great Jordan was, or learn about how good Jordan was 22 years after the fact. It’s a good movie, but it was never truly that critical about His Airness.

Then in June of this year, after the documentary (which, to its credit, did mention Jordan’s apolitical nature at his peak of stardom) and the death of George Floyd with the nationwide protests that followed, Jordan earmarked $100 million to fight racial inequality. The guy who just spent five weeks giving the entire country a front row seat to his own hero’s journey ended it with a legitimately good thing.

Now, the few days after the team’s announcement, Jordan has spent his interviews talking about giving people of color a legitimate shot in NASCAR, stressing that this is an important reason he started the team. And this is backed up with his signing of Bubba Wallace.

The lack of diversity in NASCAR is a legitimate problem and has been for decades. In the past five decades, the most notable person of color in the Cup driver ranks have been Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Juan Pablo Montoya, Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson. That lack of diversity hurts teams getting sponsorship opportunities and the sport itself being able to evolve and change with the times. The confederate flag should not have been banned in 2020; it should have been banned 20 years ago at the latest.

This isn’t to say Jordan is an asshole for doing all of this; he kinda is one anyway. Rather, this is to give context as to why this team is existing as it is. Winning races would be the cherry on top, damn the costs of getting there. And even though a big reason for this is to preserve Jordan’s legacy and sustain his ego, it’s going to be a great thing for NASCAR.

Who is safe in the Round of 12?

As with the start of the Round of 16, it’s time for the safes and not-safes of the Round of 12.

Safe Not Safe
Kevin Harvick (+62) Martin Truex Jr. (+11)
Denny Hamlin (+43) Alex Bowman (+4)
Brad Keselowski (+30) Austin Dillion (0)
Joey Logano (+17) Aric Almirola (0)
Chase Elliott (+16) Clint Bowyer (-1)
Kyle Busch (-1) Kurt Busch (-4)

There are two huge wildcard races at this round, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. The playoff driver with the best chance to win either of those races is probably Chase Elliott, who is a former Talladega race winner and has been near bulletproof on the road courses.

Kevin Harvick has a big enough war chest that he is probably safe this round, even with a bad finish or two. Same with Hamlin. Joey Logano is good at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and may well sweep the year at that racetrack.

Kyle Busch is on much more shaky ground. Busch has few playoff points to hang his hat on, but at the same time, he almost won at Bristol Motor Speedway last week and seems to have momentum more on his side.

The not-safe side has a number of drawbacks that’s really going to stress these guys out this round. Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman have lacked speed for most of the season, Kurt Busch just doesn’t seem to have the raw speed to turn top-10 finishes this year into top fives. The other three drivers are kind of just floaters who could just survive this round by not wrecking or be eliminated by just not being that particularly great.

Will Ross Chastain perform on the Cup level next season?

Although it was upstaged by the Jordan announcement on the same day, it was announced this week that Ross Chastain will be behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chevrolet in 2021.

Chastain has had a relationship with Chip Ganassi Racing for a number of years, even after his Xfinity Series ride with the team was shut down at the last second due to sponsorship issues. His naming to the ride wasn’t a massive surprise considering his performance in the lower series the past two years.

Chastain almost won a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship last season despite not running for points the first few months of the season and ended the 2020 NXS regular season third in points.

The watermelon farmer has a knack for both aggressive moves and for overdriving his equipment. This is just what CGR has needed, as a team that has felt completely rudderless after the Larson suspension. It’s clear that Matt Kenseth really didn’t have much left in the tank for this team. While it’s unlikely Chastain could elevate this team to be a legitimate championship contender in just a year, he definitely should at least be playoff bound next season.

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About Michael Finley

Avatar
Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

8 comments

  1. Avatar

    The reason for the lack of diversity in NASCAR is no secret. Come on Michael.

  2. Avatar

    Pssst Michael, bubba’s dad is white. Soooo, is he african american or anglo !!! Flip a coin.

  3. Avatar

    Its funny because I am white and my son is bi racial but he looks white. Does not look like Bubba. So people would see my son as white even though he’s the same as Bubba As for lack of diversity. So what? Should we go after the NHL next? The lack of diversity in and of itself does not mean there is some racial issue. But of course lets just stir the pot more.

    • Avatar

      Have you read the tone of most reactions on this site to Bubba Wallace? Not that there aren’t lots of haters out there to go around, but the venom directed at him is exceptional. To say racisn is not a part of the problem is disingenuous.

      • Avatar

        sbb,

        It is also many people’s frustration that his publicity/opportunity/etc is based off of perception and not performance. Sports are traditionally a meritocracy. The best players play, best coaches coach, etc.

        Up until recent times the best drivers drive. Now sponsorship and perception play a bigger role than talent in many instances (menard, Dillon bros., wallace, danica, etc.)

        Very soon we could be saying the same things about Custer and Briscoe since their dads are execs with their respective race teams.

        It’s that his marketability is getting him an opportunity and not his talent. Think Danica in the #10 and then how great almirola did in his first year in that ride after her.

      • Avatar

        It’s the same hate they had for Danica, lack of perceived talent and special treatment by the media. Not racist or sexist.

      • Avatar

        Its not racism, its just that Bubba’s actions spoke volumes about his ability to use one situation that the FBI found to be idiotic. Then he proceeded to trash NASCAR fans and wouldn’t stop. Open mouth and insert foot. I personally don’t need any of his BS and that is exactly what it is. He got new sponsors and others that were more deserving got nothing. The only reason for the sponsorships was that the companies wanted to be WOKE. Just more BS from the corporate site. NASCAR was complicit in this mess and are paying the price. Racism has nothing and I repeat NOTHING to do with Bubba. Its all about performance and he hasn’t. Just like Danica. Matter of fact, Bubba will be Danica 2.0. Mark my words.

  4. Avatar

    New team notoriously go through growing pains for 3-5 years after forming, some even longer. This whole deal is about sponsorship and money, nothing more. It’s Danica 2.0…