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Michael Jordan’s NASCAR team partners with Gibbs, Toyota

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This image provided by Toyota Racing, shows the new No. 23 Toyota Camry at at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. Hall of Fame basketball player and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan expects to field a winning team when 23XI (pronounced twenty-three eleven) Racing begins NASCAR competition next season. The car will be driven by Bubba Wallace and will be a Toyota in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. (Toyota Racing via AP)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Michael Jordan expects to field a winning team when 23XI Racing begins NASCAR competition next season. The first move toward victory lane came Friday in a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.

Jordan partnered with current NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin as new team owners and will field the No. 23 for Bubba Wallace. The formation of 23XI — pronounced twenty-three eleven — was completed in September but the final pieces weren't confirmed until Friday.

Joe Gibbs Racing won last year's Cup Series championship with Kyle Busch and both Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are in contention for this year's title. Hamlin has driven for Toyota and JGR since 2008, so an alliance with any other manufacturer would have been a significant conflict of interest.

“My main goal for 23XI Racing is to be competitive for a championship as soon as possible,” said Jordan. “Our partnership with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing gives us the equipment, resources and expertise to do it.”

JGR is the flagship Toyota team and considered one of NASCAR's top organizations. Gibbs has won five Cup titles since 2000 and last year celebrated a banner season in which its four drivers combined to win 19 of 36 races.

But 23XI is not a fifth Gibbs car — that's against NASCAR rules — and Hamlin had to prove its independence for the team to launch. 23XI will be a JGR customer and operate from a shop owned by Germain Racing, which is going out of business.

Mike Wheeler, who led Hamlin to five wins over three seasons including the first of Hamlin's three Daytona 500 victories, will be crew chief for the No. 23. Wheeler this past season was the competition director for Leavine Family Racing, a team aligned with Gibbs that is closing.

“The way the rule is meant to be interpreted is its not a fifth JGR car, so they're not providing services to us for free,” Hamlin said. “They are not providing us the cars for free and everything is independent. We are not using any of their staff. It's our own organization, we have our own payroll, our own vendors that we have to pay, so this organization stands on its own.”