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MJ Celebrates 58th Birthday & Makes Black History At Daytona 500 With Bubba Wallace

Driving Michael Jordan's No. 23 Toyota, Wallace becomes first Black driver to lead a lap at the Daytona 500

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace — the only full-time Black driver in the Cup Series — ran into trouble early and late in his first Daytona 500 driving for Michael Jordan.

In the end, the resilient Wallace still came of out NASCAR’s marquee race with yet another milestone, becoming the first Black driver to lead a lap in the Daytona 500. Wallace and his entire Toyota team showed how fast their cars were by sweeping the Top 5 spots in Opening Day Practice on Feb. 10. 

Then, during the actual race, he dipped to the low line late in the second stage to grab the lead late on lap 129 in the No.23 Toyota.

Wallace lost the lead to two-time defending champions Denny Hamlin, who co-owns 23XI with Jordan- and ran third at the end of the stage. Wallace got caught up in a fiery, chaotic last lap and finished 17th in a race won by Michael McDowell.

Wallace had this to say after the historical race: 

“…bum ending. I bailed out down the back, saw the wreck happening and got run over from behind. I should’ve bailed sooner. “Fast car, can’t have loose wheels. Onto the right turns.”

The crash forced Wallace to pit with 22 laps in the race because he felt a vibration due to a loose wheel on the Toyota. Consequently, Wallace fell a lap behind and boosted Hamlin to give his boss and the Toyota teammate a legit run at a record third straight Daytona 500 championship. Hamlin finished fifth. Following the finish, Hamlin had this to say about Wallace. 

“We worked together a couple of times. I actually thought he was gonna win the second stage.”

Making History At Daytona 500 Is Basic For Bubba

From the first time he participated in the Daytona 500 in 2018, Wallace is guaranteed to do something dramatic at this high profile event.

The 2018 Daytona 500 NASCAR Monster Energy Series race will be remembered for a long time for many reasons, but most importantly it marked the first time since 1971 that an African-American driver would compete full-time for a Cup Series team as Wallace Jr. finished second driving the legendary No. 43 car for The King, Richard Pettys RPM outfit.

Wallace’s finish remains the highest for a Black driver in the prestigious race’s history. 

READ MORE: NASCAR Black Prince Series: Behind The Scenes Exclusive With Bubba Wallace @ 2018 Daytona 500

Now part of the MJ/Hamlin racing team, Wallace had a solid first two-thirds of the rain-delayed race at Daytona International Speedway after a tumultuous start in Jordan’s debut race as a team owner.

“He was running up front and battling for stage wins. That’s what we love to see,” Hamlin said.

Prior to the race Jordan’s No. 23 Toyota failed inspection twice, prompting NASCAR to kick the team’s car chief off the grounds. The car passed on the third attempt but had to start from the back of the field. Jordan watched the beginning from a luxury suite. The six-time NBA champion had his first conversation with the 23XI crew chief after he called down to Mike Wheeler to find out why the team failed inspection.

Welcome to NASCAR MJ

MJ entered NASCAR as the first Black principal owner of a full-time NASCAR team in nearly 50 years. He’s tight with Hamlin and has rooted on the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers from the pits in the past. Jordan and Wallace didn’t have the opportunity to meet until this week at Daytona as the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This venture is no lark for Jordan. He was a kid when his late father packed up the car and took the family to NASCAR races at Southern tracks like Daytona, Darlington Raceway, and now-defunct Rockingham Speedway.

Not surprising for a guy like Jordan who mentioned he sets his clock to watch NASCAR every week. 

READ MORE: NASCAR Black Prince Series: Bubba Wallace Will Drive For New Racing Team Owner MJ

What a combination these two barrier-breakers could be.

Bubba Wallace Is All In For The Culture

From the first time we interviewed bi-racial NASCAR star Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, he has exhibited the same feisty passion and emotion that became evident to the world as he found himself knee-deep at the center of America’s racial boiling pot that spilled over with protests in the months following the George Floyd murder at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.

After leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, he plunged himself into the middle of another historical venture with some iconic figures. 

With this new, exciting step along his journey — as the driver for a historical, barrier-breaking racing team — Wallace will blaze more paths and create more history while improving as a driver and inspiring young people to become a part of the NASCAR family. 

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