— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 22, 2020
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.
|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.