Updated April 23rd, 2024 at 10:25 IST

NASCAR revels in an MJ moment. His Airness gives a big boost to his post-hoops passion

Suddenly, Michael Jordan's new life seems just as satisfying as his old one. This felt a whole lot like M.J. knocking down a buzzer-beater, winning the big game, celebrating like a champion.

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan stands in the pit area during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway | Image: AP
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Suddenly, Michael Jordan's new life seems just as satisfying as his old one. This felt a whole lot like M.J. knocking down a buzzer-beater, winning the big game, celebrating like a champion.

Of course, his title-hoarding days in the NBA are long behind him.

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But Jordan's current passion is filling that competitive void.

For the first time since he became a NASCAR Cup team owner, Jordan was at the track to savor in person a victory by one of his drivers.

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And what a win it was!

When Michael McDowell crashed with the finish line in sight at Talladega Superspeedway, losing control in a desperate effort to block another driver from passing him, Tyler Reddick sped right on by to steal the checkered flag Sunday.

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Not unlike all those times Jordan sank an improbable shot to win the game for the Chicago Bulls.

“To me, this is like an NBA playoff game," said Jordan, who co-owns the 23XI team with Denny Hamlin. “And for us to win a big race like this, it means so much to me. I’m all in. I love it.”

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The winning driver didn’t even realize Jordan was at the track — he's always rather low-key and apparently didn’t want to put any extra pressure on his drivers, Reddick and Bubba Wallace — but it sure made the occasion even more special.

When Reddick got to Victory Lane, he was greeted by his boss, who had scooped up Reddick’s 4-year-old son , Beau, on pit road.

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“In the moment it means a lot, but as he gets older and everything too, looking back on that, that’s going to be really, really cool moment,” said Reddick, who was hired by 23XI in a surprising move before this season.

Beau knows who his daddy's boss is, but more for the sneakers he made so famous. Reddick plans to rectify that in the years ahead.

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“I’ve got to probably play some highlights, some Finals matchups, and educate Beau a little bit better,” Reddick said. “Play some old-school games for him so he can get a real good feel of how dominant (Jordan) was in his prime.”

It was undoubtedly a big moment for NASCAR , which has endured some dips in popularity but seems on the upswing again.

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Judging by the reaction on social media at seeing His Airness celebrating wildly in the pits, like he once did on the court, Reddick's victory is sure to move the needle even more. For good measure, the No. 45 Toyota was adorned with the Basketball Hall of Famer's iconic “Jumpman” logo.

“Yeah, 23XI is very important to this sport, absolutely,” Hamlin said. “It’s good for everything you can imagine. You’re talking sponsorship, your manufacturers, your team morale. It’s just so good, and it is in so many different ways.”

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Always one to deliver a well-timed verbal jab, Jordan couldn’t resist taking a poke at his co-owner, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing and was knocked out by a crash with 33 laps remaining that also took out Wallace.

“Actually, he did a good job of wrecking, so we could get up front," Jordan said of Hamlin. "That was actually pretty good.”

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McDowell started from the pole, dominated the later laps and was in position to give Ford its much-needed first victory of the year. But his desperate efforts to block Brad Keselowski, another Ford driver, wound up costing them both.

McDowell swerved to thwart Keselowski on the high side of the track, only to lose control when he attempted an even bolder block to cut off his challenger darting to the inside. McDowell went into a spin, Keselowski had to check up and Reddick sped by to claim his sixth career Cup victory by 0.208 seconds while a bunch of other cars crashed behind them .

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Corey LaJoie slid across the finish line with his No. 7 machine on its side, pinned by another car against the wall in front of the grandstands.

Having Jordan witness the improbable finish with his own eyes only added to Reddick's jubilation.

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“He’s come to a few races, and unfortunately, even as good as the days have looked, they’ve not ended in Victory Lane,” Reddick said. “So for us to win a race like that, be up front as much as we were at the end and it looked like it was slipping away, and then we get it back, man, it’s an unreal feeling.”

For Jordan, the wild finish sparked memories of his former life, the one where he won six NBA championships and was always at his best with the game on the line.

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Yet make no mistake: the 61-year-old Jordan is fully committed these days to stock car racing.

“It replaces a lot of the competitiveness that I had in basketball," he said, before quickly adding a caveat. "But this is even worse, because I have no control. If I was playing basketball, I’d have total control. But I have no control, so I live vicariously through the drivers, crew chiefs and everybody.”

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On a wild Sunday in east Alabama, that was more than enough for M.J.

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Published April 23rd, 2024 at 10:25 IST