Michael Jordan’s worlds will collide this weekend in Chicago.
In the city where Jordan became the greatest player in NBA history, NASCAR will make history of its own. The stock car racing series will hold its first street race on Sunday, using several iconic Chicago roads to create a makeshift, 2.2-mile course.
So, how does Jordan tie in? Well, the former Chicago Bulls star is a NASCAR team owner of 23XI Racing (pronounced twenty-three eleven) and lifelong racing fan.
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Here’s the backstory of how Jordan became involved in NASCAR and where to find his cars during the Grant Park 220:
Jordan has been a NASCAR fan since his childhood
Growing up in Wilmington, N.C. – just a few hours from NASCAR’s unofficial home of Charlotte – racing was a staple in the Jordan household.
Jordan’s father, James, often took Michael and his siblings to nearby NASCAR races.
Back in the 1970s, the Cup Series held races at several tracks within a few hours of Jordan’s home – Charlotte Motor Speedway, Rockingham Speedway and Darlington Raceway. James even took the family down to Florida for races at Daytona International Speedway, according to ESPN’s Ryan McGee.
“I’m a big racing fan,” Jordan explained in a 2019 interview with NBC Sports’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It started off when I was a kid. I grew up watching (Dale Earnhardt Sr.), I grew up watching Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough.
“I love watching,” Jordan said. “I set my clock every Sunday to watch NASCAR. I pay attention and I actually enjoy spending time (at the track).”
In college at North Carolina, Jordan befriended teammate Brad Daugherty. Little did he know, Daugherty was an avid NASCAR fan. He eventually wore No. 43 in the NBA to honor Petty before becoming a co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing in 2007.
Even if Jordan didn’t always admit it, his admiration for the sport was obvious to Daugherty.
“My teammates, from Chapel Hill to the Cleveland Cavaliers, most of them have always given me a hard time when I'd be in the locker room changing the TV channel to the NASCAR races,” Daugherty told McGee. “Michael always gave me a hard time, too, about being a hillbilly and all of that. But you know what? He would also sit there and watch with me. He liked it. He always did.”
Before owning a team, Jordan often attended NASCAR races
After leaving North Carolina, Jordan obviously became pretty busy in Chicago – winning six titles and five MVPs.
But after his NBA career ended in 2003, MJ was a regular guest at NASCAR races.
Jordan became part-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006 and found another tie into the NASCAR world. Denny Hamlin, who has driven the No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing since 2005, holds season tickets for the team.
The two gradually developed a friendship, with Hamlin becoming the first NASCAR driver endorsed by Jordan Brand. In 2013, Jordan Brand sponsored Hamlin in a NASCAR Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway before he crashed out.
Their friendship continued for years to come, with Jordan attending NASCAR’s Championship Race in 2019 to cheer on Hamlin.
Jordan helped form 23XI Racing in 2020
Jordan and Hamlin’s personal relationship became professional in 2020 when they partnered to form 23XI Racing.
It all started when a “speculative” article suggested that they could be teaming up. The two knew that there was no truth to the rumors, but Hamlin said in a Netflix documentary that it sparked the idea.
Suddenly, Hamlin went to Florida to play golf with Jordan and the speculation turned into a reality.
Bubba Wallace, the Cup Series’ only Black driver, became their first official employee when he was hired to drive the No. 23 Toyota beginning in 2021. Wallace inspired Jordan to invest in the sport after the Alabama native was influential in getting Confederate flags banned at tracks and pushing for more diversity and inclusion.
Despite entering 2021 with zero career wins, Wallace posted his best season to date with the brand new team. Wallace won his and the company’s first race at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2021 and posted a career-best average finish.
Jordan reaffirmed his commitment to the team in 2022, signing 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch to drive a second car for 23XI – fittingly sporting the No. 45, Jordan’s other number with the Bulls. The team won twice in 2022 – once with both Wallace and Busch – before picking up its fourth win in March 2023 with Tyler Reddick driving the No. 45.
The Jumpman logo has been featured on Jordan’s cars
Since 23XI Racing began, Jordan Brand has sponsored the No. 45 car twice.
First, Busch drove the Air Jordan 3 “Black Cement” design at Kansas Speedway in May 2022. In true Jordan form, the car was victorious for Busch’s first win with the team and last of his Hall of Fame career.
Reddick took over the No. 45 for Busch in 2023 and rocked another sweet Jordan paint scheme. At the Coca-Cola 600, his car was draped in Carolina Blue while the Jumpman logo adorned the hood and sides of the Toyota. Reddick led 28 laps in the race and finished fifth.
What will Michael Jordan’s team cars look like in Chicago?
Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 23 Toyota sponsored by McDonald's, while Tyler Reddick's No. 45 Toyota will be sponsored by Monster Energy. Here's what those two paint schemes look like this season: