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NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500

Source: Jared C. Tilton / Getty

There is a lot riding on Bubba Wallace‘s shoulders in 2021, especially since his noose brouhaha and the ensuing departure from Richard Petty Motorsports. So he needed to send a message in his first race for his new home, Team 23XI Racing, co-owned by NBA great Michael Jordan and 3x Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.

Although he didn’t end up winning “The Great American Race,” Wallace did make history as the first Black driver to ever lead a lap at the Daytona 500. He remained in the top 10 for the first two stages of the race before his crash in the final lap. Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell eventually emerged victorious, and Wallace ended up placing No. 17. He’d previously finished in second place in the 2018 Daytona 500 with Team RPM; however, so far the highest a Black driver has ever placed in the contest.

He went on Twitter afterwards to explain what went wrong:

This was a mixed bag of results for the lone driver of 23XI Racing. After a strong showing in the practice sessions and eventually qualifying with the fourth-best time, his car then failed inspection two times before the start of the race. Bubba was penalized by having to begin the race from the back of the field only after passing inspection on the third try.

But team owner Michael Jordan is hopeful that things will turn around for Wallace. This is the start of a long relationship, and MJ has confidence Wallace will deliver. “I feel like he’s going to learn how to win. He’s got the talent,” he shared in a sit-down interview with retired Super Bowl champion Michael Strahan. “We would not have invested in him and picked him if he didn’t have the talent to win. By the end of the year, I think he’s going to have an opportunity and probably will win at least a couple of races. If it’s more, I’d be elated.”

Nevertheless, “His Airness” already made it clear in the ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance” that winning has a price, and he reiterated the feeling to Strahan, too. Jordan brought Wallace on the team to accomplish one single objective: win. “We don’t sign checks for losers.”