23XI Racing and Michael Jordan play second fiddle to Bubba Wallace’s win at Talladega

NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and co-owner of 23XI Racing looks on from the 23XI Racing pit box.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and co-owner of 23XI Racing looks on from the 23XI Racing pit box.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Ted Fleming

It's Bubba Wallace's world and everyone else is just living in it. To quote the legendary Dale Earnhardt, “Second place is just the first loser!”

Indeed, it’s like being the second man in space, the second female Supreme Court Justice, or finishing second to Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. Rarely is a second-place result remembered as much as the first. That is, until last Monday, when Bubba Wallace etched his name in the NASCAR record book as the sport’s most famous second.

When NASCAR pulled the plug on the YellaWood 500 after just 118 laps of the scheduled 188 because of bad weather, Bubba Wallace’s car number 23, was atop the scoring tower. In that very instant, he became a first-time Cup Series winner, and he did it at a track just a four-hour drive from where he grew up in Mobile, Alabama.

It also made him the second black driver to win in NASCAR's Premier Series.

Humbled to be recognized with the National Series Driver Award at the NASCAR Drive for Diversity awards.The work is never finished, excited for what's to come!

Hall of Famer Wendell Scott became the first person of color to take a checkered flag in a sanctioned NASCAR event when he won the Jacksonville 200 in 1964, and It took 20,761 days for it to happen again.

What Wallace did was noteworthy, but if the media was to be even-handed in their coverage, there were more storylines than just what the 28-year old driver did.

Bubba Wallace got the headlines, but what about Michael Jordan?

Words from the GOAT. 🐐NBA legend and @23XIRacing owner Michael Jordan on @BubbaWallace earning his first @NASCAR Cup Series win.

Bubba Wallace was the first driver hired by 23XI Racing, an organization co-owned by NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and future NASCAR Hall of Famer Denny Hamlin. Few teams being built from the ground up find success in their first year of operation, but here they are. Who cares if Mother Nature played a role in it; there is nothing like the first, right Bubba?

Two of the 2021 other startups — Trackhouse Racing and Live Fast Motorsports — could make waves next season, but they have suffered the same growing pains encountered by others in the past.

But one of the most glaring omissions in media coverage was another second. Wendell Scott was not just a driver; he was his own crew chief and car owner. The victory at 23XI Racing made Michael Jordan the second black majority owner to win a race, but somehow that second was not as crucial to most covering the race.

For clarity, JTG Daugherty Racing scored its only Cup Series win at Watkins Glen in 2014 courtesy of AJ Allmendinger, but co-owner Brad Daugherty only held a minority stake in the team.

What Bubba Wallace did, individually, silenced his critics – for now. His lackluster first-year performance with 23XI even drew criticism from Hamlin, but that’s all in the past.

It has been a week of wall-to-wall Bubba Wallace coverage, including an eight-hour programming block by NBC Sports Network on Thursday. You can be sure there will be more leading into a crucial Cup Series Playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Edited by Sandeep Banerjee
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