The tears welling up in Denny Hamlin’s face told the whole story. The three-time Daytona 500 winner rarely ends a race in tears, especially not when he isn’t the one in the winner’s circle.
But this day and this race — the AdventHealth 400 — was different. Hamlin, despite officially representing Joe Gibbs Racing, was delighted. And it was all because Kurt Busch notched the victory at Kansas Speedway.
So, why? Well, Hamlin is one of the co-owners of Busch’s team. You might have heard the other owner’s name before: NBA legend Michael Jordan. Jordan and Hamlin combined to make 23XI is 2020. Its first racer was none other than Bubba Wallace, who drove the 23 car. Wallace captured his first career win at the 2021 YellaWood 500 at Talladega, a race shortened by rain. He became the second Black driver along with Wendell Scott to win a Cup race.
The company added Kurt Busch a year later. And on Sunday, after months spent hoping for the best, 23XI finally got its taste of the shine: Busch overcame a late Kyle Larson rally to win and secure 23XI’s first Cup Series victory.
The post-race scenes were stunning. Busch circled donuts all across the Kansas Speedway asphalt, pumping his fist through the mesh window as he did. His teams was in raptures, high-fiving and hugging as Busch crossed the checkered flag.
Hamlin couldn’t contain his emotion, either. The Cup Series veteran trotted down the track and embraced Busch in a part-high five, part-hug thing through the window of Busch’s car.
It was one of the scenes of the Cup Series season so far. Still, what is 23XI Racing? And how did it come to be? The Sporting News has you covered.
What is 23XI Racing?
Team 23XI is a collaboration between Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was the impetus for the racing team, pushing Jordan to plaster his sizable footprint in the world of motorsport.
The team has two drivers at the moment — budding racing talent Bubba Wallace and Cup Series veteran Kurt Busch. Wallace is one of the few Black drivers to compete on NASCAR’s biggest stage. Meanwhile, Busch is a heady pro who has captured countless trophies, including the 2017 Daytona 500 and the 2004 Cup Series. He is seen by many, including Hamlin, as the perfect mentor for the 28-year old Wallace.
How did 23XI come to be?
The team is owned by Jordan and Hamlin. Hamlin had developed aspirations for owning a racing team during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, he told Jim Rome back in 2021.
“That’s essentially when I decided to start a race team,” Hamlin said. “We’re sitting around for eight weeks during lockdown for the country and I’m thinking, ‘Is this what retirement is like?’ — middle of the summer and I got nothing going on. And I was like, ‘I can’t golf every single day,’ so I figured I needed to have a job and something that I’m passionate about.”
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, signed with Nike as a Jordan Brand athlete in 2011. He maintained a relationship with Jordan over the years. So, when Hamlin came to Jordan with the opportunity to back a racing team, Jordan was all ears.
It was a highly improbable scenario; Jordan’s name had been linked with racing for a few days back in 2020, a link that Jordan labeled as “fake news.” However, Hamlin reached out to Jordan and within days, the seeds of making a team — 23XI Racing — had been hatched.
How did social media react to 23XI’s win?
The racing world was buzzing after Busch’s victory on Sunday. Some, like Sport’s Business Journal’s Adam Stern, pointed out Busch’s impeccable drip; the veteran’s car was decked out in an Air Jordan III Black Cement Elephant decal. Busch rocked the No. 45, the same number Jordan wore when he returned to the game of basketball in 1995.
It must’ve been the shoes. Because Busch impressed on the track, winning over 100 laps at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. And when Busch entered the winning circle, he made it clear just what helped inspire him to perform at the heightened level.
All in all, a solid day at the office for Busch, Hamlin and the rest of 23XI Racing.