Denny Hamlin, Michael Jordan partner on NASCAR team for Bubba Wallace

Auto Racing
Denny Hamlin

FILE – In this Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, file photo, Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Hamlin is on the verge of announcing some sort of ownership group as the three-time Daytona 500 winner prepares for his future. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Denny Hamlin is starting his own race car team in partnership with Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Bubba Wallace as the driver.

Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and top contender for this year’s Cup title, made the announcement on social media. The team will be a single-car Toyota entry aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Eleven years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends,” Hamlin wrote. “Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and now we are ready to take it to the next level.

“Deciding on the driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.”

Hamlin said additional details would be forthcoming. Wallace is the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level.

There’s been speculation for months that Hamlin was organizing some sort of ownership group as he expects NASCAR’s business model to become more favorable for team owners when the “Next Gen” car is released in 2022. NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin works around the policy with Jordan as the primary owner.

Jordan became a partial owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and bought the team outright in 2010, restoring the franchise to its original Hornets name. Hamlin has been a longtime season-ticket holder with courtside seats along the visitors’ bench.

Jordan has twice traveled to the NASCAR season finale to watch Hamlin race for the championship. Hamlin, who’s 39, is still seeking his first title.

Wallace, who has cobbled together about $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made social equality his platform, already said he’d leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace wrote in a social media post coordinated with Hamlin’s.

“I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

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