When A Plan Comes Together: The Birth Of Race Team

Eric Urbanowicz
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A NASCAR driver and an NBA legend start a race team and hire the most talked about driver from this past season. This may sound like the set up to a bad joke but it’s reality.

Earlier this week, NBA Hall of Famer Micheal Jordan and 16 year veteran NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin made the announcement that they’ve started a one-car race team that will debut in the 2021 season. The driver they’ve chosen to represent their team? Bubba Wallace.

With all the hype that surrounds the team and Bubba Wallace, does this bode well for all three parties? There’s no easy or definite answer but signs tend to lean more towards no.

The main point of contention is that Wallace is a young driver going back into a single car team. While Hamlin is a veteran driver and can help teach Wallace how to drive better, having teammates on the track would be more beneficial to Wallace. More than likely, Hamlin may not even be racing with Wallace.

Not having that teammate to watch their back or help draft when they need that boost will come back to hurt them. Not to mention, it leaves the team with one spotter. That one pair of eyes will be responsible for every caution, every detail on the track, etc. It’s not very comforting when you think about it.

Both Hamlin and Wallace may have missed a few golden opportunities. With drivers Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth set to retire, and drivers like Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick possibly not far behind, it may not have been in their interests to do this now.

Those teams have produced NASCAR Cup Series champions. Given that Hamlin is chasing his first title, and Wallace is chasing his first win, they’re taking a massive risk. Teams sometimes take a couple of years to really find a groove. Hamlin’s clock is running out: if he wanted a title soon, he should have waited to see what rides become available after the season.

The only other downside is that they’ll need to win now. Jordan has already come out and said he wants to win: “My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there to just go around the races and just go around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th,’ ” Jordan said to the media. “I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.”

If that’s the case, Wallace has a lot to work on. His average finish since he started racing full seasons have been the following: 24.5 (2018), 23.9 (2019), and 20.5 (so far into the 2020 season). If Wallace can’t improve to at least a top 15 average or even win a few races, he could be out of a job.

Where this could succeed is the resources itself. Jordan is worth about $1.6 billion and Hamlin is worth about $65 million according to Forbes. At the lowest, it costs about $400,000 to build a car weekly. Given Hamlin’s experience, he’ll know what parts can give Wallace the edge and keep him in races.

Money will not be an issue, so it shouldn’t impact performance. If it does, that’s when the complications will begin.

Overall, this team should be fine but possibly lower than the expectations that have been set. If they can ignore the hype and focus on each race, one at a time, they’ll be fine. However, the first season needs to focus more on Wallace developing as a driver and less on going for the win every time.

This team is great for NASCAR and their attempt to promote diversity. In a sense, it’s a unicorn: a once in a lifetime opportunity, similar to when Washington Football Team legendary head coach Joe Gibbs bought a team. If something goes wrong, the team can implode. On the other hand, if they go out and succeed, the legacy of Bubba Wallace could grow and we could see a future great NASCAR team.

Eric Urbanowicz

Connecticut

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