Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan made waves in September when they unveiled their new plans to form a NASCAR Cup Series team in 2021 with Bubba Wallace as their driver. On Thursday, the team revealed its identity: 23XI Racing, which will field the #23 car.
Pronounced “twenty-three eleven”, the name shies away from the traditional usage of the owner’s surname in favour of tributes to the owners’ numbers. Jordan played with #23 for much of his illustrious NBA career, while Hamlin has exclusively raced the #11 with Joe Gibbs Racing at the Cup level. Hamlin is unable to use #11 for his own operation as JGR owns the number (which itself is a tribute to the owner’s late son J.D. Gibbs), but should 23XI choose to field a second car, other options may include #45 (Jordan’s other number during his pro career) or some other combination of 23 and 11.
A specific reason for writing 11 in Roman numerals was not given, but is likely for aesthetic reasons as “2311 Racing”, “23-11 Racing”, and other variants are not as visually appealing. Jordan’s Air Jordan brand also utilises Roman numerals for its shoes, most recently unveiling the Air Jordan XXXV in late September.
“Michael and I have a shared vision for this team, so it’s exciting to see it reflected in the team name and on the race car with the iconic number 23 that Michael made famous,” said Hamlin.
With the announcement, 2021 will see the #23’s first Cup race since the demise of BK Racing in 2018. The number has won three times in premier series history, with two victories by Frank Mundy in 1951 and Al Keller in 1954. A manufacturer was not revealed, though it is reasonable to assume 23XI will field Toyotas like JGR; coincidentally, BK Racing’s #23 was also a Toyota.
Wallace, who has made headlines in 2020 for a variety of reasons, will not be the first black driver to pilot the #23 in a Cup race. Bill Lester used the number in two races in 2006 with Bill Davis Racing.
“Nice! As you know, I happen to have a certain affinity for a Cup car with #23 on it,” Lester tweeted.