Michael Jordan loves NASCAR. He also loves winning. As co-owner of 23XI Racing, he combined those two passions before the start of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season and set the bar extremely high, suggesting that Bubba Wallace would win a couple of times in the team’s first season.
Co-owner Denny Hamlin was more reserved in his expectations. He understood the day-to-day grind and how difficult it is to win against the top drivers in the sport. On Sunday, both Jordan and Hamlin got personal and shared how they got emotional following Wallace’s first Cup win last week at Talladega.
Michael Jordan sets high bar for Bubba Wallace in first season with 23XI Racing
In a made-for-television moment, Bubba Wallace met Michael Jordan for the first time in an interview on Fox before the Daytona 500. During that initial conversation, Jordan didn’t hide the lofty goals he had for Wallace and the No. 23 car in the 2021 Cup Series season.
“I feel like he’s going to learn how to win,” Jordan said. “He’s got the talent. We would have not invested in him and picked him if he didn’t have the talent to win. By the end of the year, I think he’s going to have an opportunity and probably will win at least a couple of races. If it’s more, I’ll be elated.”
Through the first 30 races of the season, Jordan had watched Wallace and the team endure a rollercoaster ride of a year. In that span, Wallace had managed just a couple of top-10s, including a fifth-place at Pocono and a second-place at Daytona in August. Conversely, the No. 23 car had eight finishes of 26th or worse.
Wallace earns first Cup Series win at Talladega
While Wallace hadn’t won a race in his first four full-time Cup Series seasons, a noticeable pattern had developed in that time. He was good at the superspeedways. Three of his four top-5 career finishes came at Daytona, including a pair of second-place finishes with the one earlier this year and at the 2018 Daytona 500.
Last Monday, Wallace finally had his breakthrough win, and not surprisingly, it came at Talladega, another superspeedway. The 28-year-old showed speed early in the race, working his way up to the front of the field, but eventually dropping back and settling mid-pack. Once he received word that rains were on the way, he made his way forward.
Wallace found himself in the lead when Ryan Preece got turned into the wall and brought out the caution flag with five laps to go in the second stage. And then the rains came.
After an anxious wait on pit road, NASCAR called the race, and Wallace was officially a first-time Cup winner.
Jordan admits he cried when Wallace won
Michael Jordan has attended multiple races this season. However, he wasn’t at Talladega. Despite not being there in person, Jordan admitted before the race at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday that watching Bubba Wallace earn his first victory was an emotional moment for him.
“To see the emotion from Bubba tells you everything about how much work he’s put into it, how much effort and how much he wanted to win,” Jordan said. “And I even dropped a tear because I know his passion. And I know Denny had to feel the same. It’s like a little brother actually winning a race, and he put forth the energy. I was looking forward to giving Denny a big hug and hopefully get to see Bubba and let them know because I wasn’t there that I was with them in spirit and I’m very proud of Bubba and what he achieved.”
“I actually started getting emotional when I saw the emotion that they had,” he admitted. “I thought it was honestly like watching your kid do something. You get more proud and happy for them than what you do for yourself.”
The three-time Daytona 500 winner also said he had somewhat of an epiphany watching the excitement of Wallace and his team in their jubilation.
“The biggest thing that I took away from it was that, man, I really take winning for granted,” he said. “It’s just, hey, we won again. Exciting. We’re thinking about the next week. Where, when you see the excitement on the guys that don’t win as much, and for 90 percent of that team it’s their very first win, I was like, wow, this is the emotion of what it should feel like when you accomplish something at the highest motorsports level. I was so proud for them. I’m so happy for them because I know how hard they’ve worked over the last 12 months or so.”
It was a watershed moment for Wallace and the 23XI Racing team. They say getting the first win is the hardest. Now with that first one under their belt, the crew focuses on the second. And if they can achieve it before the end of this season, Jordan’s preseason prediction won’t look so crazy after all.
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