The makeup of NASCAR ownership will look about as different as any year in recent memory come February.
Michael Jordan is the shiny new addition to the fraternity of Cup Series owners (along with his partner Denny Hamlin), but joining His Airness are former Cup drivers Justin Marks (Trackhouse Racing Team) and Matt Tifft (Live Fast Motorsports), current driver BJ McLeod (partnering with Tifft and LFM) and Matt Kaulig (Kaulig Racing), the latter reportedly venturing into the series on a part-time basis in 2021.
With those entries come the departures of longtime Cup owners Bob Leavine (Leavine Family Racing) and Bob Germain (Germain Racing).
LFR never graced Victory Lane in the Cup Series but had its tenure highlighted by a runner-up finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2019 with Matt DiBenedetto behind the wheel, not to mention names like Michael McDowell, Scott Speed, Kasey Kahne, Regan Smith, Christopher Bell and more who piloted the No. 95.
Germain also failed to win a race at the top level but hoisted the hardware in the Camping World Truck Series twice with Todd Bodine (2006 and 2010). Its best Cup finish came late last season, as current free agent Ty Dillon wheeled the No. 13 to a third-place result at Talladega Superspeedway.
With the Next Gen car being expected to enter in 2021, some new teams already had the plans and infrastructure in place to enter then and not wait around for 2022. But with the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the debut of NextGen, who’s to say that we’ve seen the end of new ownership groups?
“I believe NASCAR is taking steps to help the financial model for the owners. This is why it was a great time for us to come in when we did,” Hamlin said earlier this year.
Said NASCAR President Steve Phelps: “I would suggest that the number of new owners trying to get into this sport has never been higher. Certainly when I’ve been around, and I’ve been around for 15 years. There’s just a ton of enthusiasm for the direction of what team ownership looks like.”
And Trackhouse owner Justin Marks: “In going through the due diligence of figuring out how to put a team like this together during that process, the (Next Gen) car got delayed a year, but we built a structure of how to come into this sport for being very intelligent with our allocation of capital and very intelligent with our growth plans. Even though the new car was delayed, there was still an opportunity to go racing, a way that we could be competitive and start laying the groundwork for that new car.”
Over the last 10-15 years, the average age of the championship car owner hovers around 70 years old. With Jordan (57), Hamlin (40), Marks (39), McLeod (37), Tifft (24) and Kaulig (46) entering next season, their collective average age is 39.
According to David Smith at Motorsports Analytics, a driver’s peak age is 39. For owners? Definitely older. But having a younger perspective on the makeup of the Cup Series moving forward will be a good thing. The sanctioning body has shown it’s not afraid of taking stances that alienate a portion of the fan base, and adding a different perspective that hasn’t been able to be shared in recent years should only propel it forward both on and off track.
But let’s be real: Jordan is it here, right? Not only is he the first Black principal team owner of a full-time organization since Wendell Scott in the 1970s, he also happens to be, well, Michael freakin’ Jordan.
You can put Jordan in the top five worldwide celebrities that pretty much anybody and everybody would know. And he’s in NASCAR? Forming a new team? With the No. 23? Yes, please.
Much like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the appeal to bring NASCAR to the masses, Jordan has the ability to do the same. Coupled with Bubba Wallace, who has become a household name in the sport for those unfamiliar before, the sky really is the limit for 23XI Racing as it aims to be a Cup mainstay for decades to come.
It’s a big if, though, and will take a lot of perfect timing, scenarios and the like for 23XI to be a championship contender and a household name that transcends sports. What seems for certain, though, is that NASCAR is already better off for having Jordan’s brand associated with it. From a pure marketing perspective, it’s a goldmine.
On track is a different story. But it has the resources and individuals to make it happen. As do Marks at Trackhouse and Tifft/McLeod at Live Fast… well, in due time. Patience is a virtue.
The head of the ownership table will largely remain unchanged. It’ll still be Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske, Tony Stewart/Gene Haas, Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress and others.
But now with a younger and more vibrant class coming in for (hopefully) the long haul, the future looks bright for NASCAR ownership.