Before the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season began, a new racing team was formed that took the sport by surprise. In September 2020, NBA legend Michael Jordan and driver Denny Hamlin announced a partnership as co-owners of the new team, 23XI Racing.
NASCAR fans and analysts alike speculated about the team’s number and if Jordan’s famous No. 23 would be used since it was available. Of course, everyone’s predictions were proved true when the team revealed their first driver and confirmed his car number. 23XI Racing signed Bubba Wallace to be the first driver of the No. 23 stock car.
During the 2021 season, Wallace had his ups and downs as the single-car team’s driver. He had multiple top-10 finishes, but that first NASCAR Cup Series victory eluded the team for much of the season. Late in the year though on Oct. 4, 2021, 23XI Racing took their first checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway. The team built on that momentum coming into the 2022 season as they expanded to two cars when they added the No. 45 Toyota Camry and signed veteran driver Kurt Busch to drive it.
Now, the two-car team is building their brand and establishing themselves as a true force within NASCAR. With both an up-and-coming talent in Wallace and a former Cup Series champion in Busch, 23XI Racing looks built for the long-run. But what are the origins of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s team, and how did they come up with the team name and mission?
How the NASCAR Team Co-Owners Chose the Name 23XI Racing
Michael Jordan’s love for racing is how he came to know Denny Hamlin as the pair became friends over the years. In fact, Hamlin would often be seen wearing Jordan Brand clothing and Air Jordan sneakers even before 23XI Racing’s creation. The two friends talked about working together before, but in 2020 they finally made it happen.
However, Hamlin was still racing for Joe Gibbs as the driver of the No. 11 car where he still competes now. Just this past weekend, Hamlin took the checkered flag in Richmond for Joe Gibbs Racing. But a couple years back, Hamlin was ready to start thinking about his future after he removes himself from the driver’s seat one day. He loves the sport and wanted to stay involved, so ownership seemed like a natural next step.
That said, Hamlin wanted to be respectful of Joe Gibbs and his current racing team. Therefore when deciding he and Jordan’s new team name, the driver was conscious of using his longtime No. 11 beside Jordan’s signature No. 23. The car number was obvious, but determining the team name and logo took some work.
The team decided to use a mix of Jordan’s retired jersey number along with Hamlin’s car number, but in Roman numerals. Jordan has used Roman numerals many times in his ventures, including on his Air Jordan sneakers and in the name of his golf course in Florida, The Grove XXIII. Hamlin spoke about the decision not long after the team was announced.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re multiple cars down the road. The 23 will always represent him, the 11 always represents me,” Hamlin explained to reporters. “But I also wanted to be respectful to Joe Gibbs Racing and not actually have, you know, the number 11 in the logo being that they have that number. So it’s just kind of a balance of all that.”
Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s Vision for Their New NASCAR Team
Every sports fan knows about Michael Jordan’s iconic basketball career as a 6-time NBA champion. He brought that same fiery competitive spirit to NASCAR as co-owner of 23XI Racing. However, many race fans may not realize Jordan’s ties to racing and to specifically the NASCAR circuit.
As a kid growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina, Jordan’s parents took Michael and his brothers and sisters to races regularly. According to Air Jordan himself, he’s been a NASCAR fan all of his life. Both Jordan and Hamlin looked at the creation of 23XI Racing as much more than just another NASCAR team. The friends turned business partners took it upon themselves to use the new team as a platform for change and progress.
As the most prominent Black owner in NASCAR now, Jordan embraced the opportunity to bring more diversity to the sport. That’s another reason 23XI Racing brought in Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level. While announcing the new team, Michael Jordan touched on he and Hamlin’s mission as co-owners in the Cup Series.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan shared in his statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me. Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”
23XI Racing Expands, Continues Their Mission
As mentioned before, 23XI Racing has already expanded in their second season with the addition of Kurt Busch. But the NASCAR team isn’t just expanding on the track, they want to expand on their mission off the track as well. That’s why Jordan and Hamlin hired team president Steve Lauletta to help lead their new venture.
Lauletta had recently stepped away from his own racing career, and 23XI Racing’s co-owners knew he was the right man to deliver on the team’s on and off-track goals. In March 2022, Lauletta spoke with the Sports Business Journal about the importance of the team’s diversity mission in NASCAR.
“It’s a journey — not a destination,” Lauletta said to the outlet. “Starting with our ownership, partners and everyone on the team, it’s something that we want to make and have made part of our mission and values.”
“We want to do that not only to make the workforce diverse and inclusive, but with our fans, we want to have a brand that can appeal to everybody. It’s been great so far, but we’ve got to continue to focus on it,” he added.
It’s still early days for 23XI Racing since it’s only their second season on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit. But Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin have already begun to make their mark on the sport and within a more diverse NASCAR community.