(CBS News) — Drivers, start your engines!
NASCAR star Bubba Wallace is “excited for the opportunity” to take the wheel ofbrand new car in 2021, he said first on “CBS This Morning” Friday.
The team is partnering with Toyota to pair the sport’s only Black full-time driver with its only Black owner —basketball legend and team owner Michael Jordan. The hall-of-famer announced the formation of 23XI Racing in an October press conference alongside co-owner and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin.
“It’s great our friendship turned into a partnership,” Hamlin told show co-host Gayle King.
Questions had been circulating about the pair starting a team early, and as Hamlin described, they may have ended up fueling 23XI Racing’s creation.
“I think there was some rumors floating around about me and him being part of a team to begin with,” he said. “He obviously said ‘fake news,’ you know, but if you want to make real news, let me know.”
Hamlin called his partnership with Jordan “historic,” and said there was “no doubt” in his mind that Bubba Wallace needed to be in the driver’s seat.
Wallace made headlines amidover the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, when he successfully pushed for Confederate flags from NASCAR events.
He also used his platform to amplify Black Lives Matter, when he wore a t-shirt with the slogan and “I Can’t Breathe” before an event, and later drove a black car with the words “#BlackLivesMatter” emblazoned on the side at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway.
Asked if he was ready for the tumultuous year to be over, Wallace let out a laugh: “Yes.”
“Next year can’t get here soon enough,” Wallace said, referring to the start of the season. “I’ve just got to make sure I do my part, deliver each and every time out.”
Part of that, Wallace said, was finishing his season with Richard Petty Motorsports strong.
“I’m excited to move on, but I keep restating we still have two solid races coming up here for us at Martinsville and Phoenix to close out the year that we have to capitalize on,” he said. “As much as I’m ready for the future, next year, my mind is still on the two races in 2020 to get through and finish out the best way possible.”
Wallace said he welcomed the “pressure” of his historic new role.
“Look at the car I’m driving right now, the iconic #43. Now we’re switching over to the iconic #23, so, pressure is kind of my middle name,” he said.
He also joked that he still needed to “pass Denny [Hamlin] on restarts, make him mad, just to fuel the fire even more for next year.”
Hamlin, who races for a FedEx-Toyota team, said he was looking forward to still facing Wallace on the track.
“I think that we have to maintain that competitive fire, and that’s ultimately what will drive and push us,” Hamlin said.
He also acknowledged the “complicated” aspect of their new relationship.
“Starting this team, really for me, was about, you know, what do I do once my career is over, the driving career is over?” Hamlin said. “But I obviously know it’s in my best interest to go out and win for myself.”