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NASCAR revels in an M.J. moment. His Airness gives a big boost to his posthoops passion

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NASCAR revels in an M.J. moment. His Airness gives a big boost to his posthoops passion
Sport

Sport

NASCAR revels in an M.J. moment. His Airness gives a big boost to his posthoops passion

2024-04-22 23:52 Last Updated At:04-23 00:00

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — 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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NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7) crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — 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.

NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) moves during a collision on the final lap of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) moves during a collision on the final lap of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7), upside down, crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7), upside down, crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan watches the race during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan watches the race during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win and climbs a fence at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win and climbs a fence at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan stands in the pit area during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan stands in the pit area during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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

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

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan celebrates a win by his driver Tyler Reddick after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan celebrates a win by his driver Tyler Reddick after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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

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

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.

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.

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.”

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.

“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 is in his second season with 23XI.

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.

“I’ve got to probably play some highlights, some (NBA) 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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

“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.

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.”

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

This story has been corrected to show that Reddick is in his second, not first, season driving for 23XI.

AP NASCAR: https://apnews.com/hub/nascar-racing

NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7) crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7) crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) moves during a collision on the final lap of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) moves during a collision on the final lap of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7), upside down, crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

NASCAR Cup Series driver's Ryan Preece (41) Josh Berry (4) and Corey LaJoie (7), upside down, crash on the final lap during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan watches the race during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan watches the race during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win and climbs a fence at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win and climbs a fence at a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Tyler Reddick celebrates his win after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan stands in the pit area during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan stands in the pit area during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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

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

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan celebrates a win by his driver Tyler Reddick after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan celebrates a win by his driver Tyler Reddick after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Talladega. Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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

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

PARIS (AP) — Even Carlos Alcaraz couldn't tell you exactly what's been wrong with his right forearm, the part of his body that is responsible for his thunderous forehands — and also is responsible for sidelining him during nearly all of April and May as the French Open approached.

He knows this much: “I'm a little bit scared about hitting every forehand 100%.”

Alcaraz, a two-time major champion, is just one of the top players in men's tennis who enters the year's second Grand Slam tournament with some doubts about what form they will be in when competition begins at Roland Garros on Sunday.

Jannik Sinner, who won the Australian Open in January, hasn't played at all in May because of a bad hip that forced him to pull out of the Madrid Open before the quarterfinals and skip the Italian Open entirely.

Defending French Open champion Novak Djokovic, he of the No. 1 ranking and 24 Grand Slam titles, had only played eight matches since January by the time he lost his second contest in Rome, so took the unusual-for-him step of entering the lower-tier Geneva Open this week to prepare on clay — and lost in the semifinals there Friday to 44th-ranked Tomas Machac.

With 14-time champion Rafael Nadal about to turn 38, just 7-4 this season after hip and abdominal injuries and no longer the near-lock for the title he used to be in Paris, it's anyone's guess what'll happen over the coming two weeks.

Then again, Alcaraz is not taking anything for granted.

“It doesn’t matter (if Sinner is) coming from an injury. I think he has the capacity to come here and play in such a high level and be able to win it. Same as Rafa; same as Djokovic,” Alcaraz said. "Probably we don’t see them playing at (their) best tennis, but it’s a Grand Slam, it’s Roland Garros, and I think they have chances to win the tournament.”

As for his arm, the good news is Alcaraz says he doesn't have discomfort.

Even if the precise nature of what's been wrong escapes him.

“When I do the tests, when I’m talking with the doctors, my team, they explain to me what I have. ... I listen to them, but I forget,” Alcaraz said with his trademark wide smile. “What I remember is they told me that this is not going to be serious, it’s not going to take too much time. But here we are, recovering. I’m not feeling any pain in the practices when I step on the court. But I’m still thinking about it when I'm hitting forehands.”

There is a lot to like about the way Coco Gauff plays tennis, of course. That's why she enters the French Open as the No. 3 seed and the reigning champion of the U.S. Open.

It's not all perfect, of course. And among the things Gauff has been working on lately is her serve, particularly her second serve, in order to try to avoid accumulating the high double-fault counts she's had recently.

During the clay-court circuit that leads into the major that begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Gauff has double-faulted 92 times across 10 matches, an average of 9.2. Hardly ideal.

That total came from 45 double-faults in five matches in Rome — where she reached the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Iga Swiatek — 24 in three matches in Madrid, and 23 in two matches in Stuttgart.

How Gauff fares with that aspect of her game could affect how far she can make it this time in Paris, where the 20-year-old American was the runner-up to Swiatek in 2022.

“I have been trying to improve it with every tournament, from the start of the clay to Rome,” she said Friday.

“I feel like it’s getting better, but it’s obviously a shot that I feel is tough to change just because, when you’re tight or whatever, you kind of revert back to what you know works,” Gauff said. “Sometimes it’s tough to push yourself to do the uncomfortable things which you know in the long term are better for you.”

The first time Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka played each other came at a Davis Cup match in 2005. Murray was 18; Wawrinka 20. When they meet each other for the 23rd time — in the first round of the French Open on Sunday — Murray will be 37 and Wawrinka 39, and each is a three-time major champion.

“I smiled at the draw, of course,” Wawrinka said Friday.

It is a showdown that would have garnered headlines when they were in their primes. Still could draw a good crowd, not so much for what both are capable of these days, but where both have been.

“Should be a brilliant atmosphere,” said Murray, who is recovering from a serious ankle injury that kept him out of action for the better part of two months.

There's this oddity involved with the matchup: This will be the fourth consecutive French Open appearance for Murray that will feature a match against Wawrinka. Murray beat Wawrinka in the 2016 semifinals in Paris, lost to him in the 2017 semifinals, then missed the 2018 and 2019 editions, lost to Wawrinka in the first round in 2020, and did not make it to Roland Garros in 2021, 2022 or 2023.

Murray points to his five-set loss to Wawrinka seven years ago as the final match his hip could take before requiring the first of two operations.

“My hip was in so much pain. I remember, we were staying in a house near here and I remember getting up in the night because I couldn’t sleep. I was just lying on the sofa in loads of pain. Never recovered,” Murray said. “I couldn’t extend my leg behind me anymore properly after that match. It was a shame.”

Murray vs. Wawrinka in 2020 was the first time two men with Grand Slam titles faced off in the first round at Roland Garros since Yevgeny Kafelnikov against Michael Chang in 1999. They'll do it again Sunday.

Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories here: https://apnews.com/author/howard-fendrich

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

Elina Svitolina of Ukraine returns a ball to Anna Kalinskaya, of Russia, during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Sunday, May 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Elina Svitolina of Ukraine returns a ball to Anna Kalinskaya, of Russia, during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Sunday, May 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

FILE - Britain's Andy Murray, left, applauds for Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka, right, after Murray won the semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament in four sets, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Friday, June 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

FILE - Britain's Andy Murray, left, applauds for Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka, right, after Murray won the semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament in four sets, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Friday, June 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

FILE - Britain's Andy Murray, right, shakes hands with Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka after their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Friday, June 3, 2016 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

FILE - Britain's Andy Murray, right, shakes hands with Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka after their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Friday, June 3, 2016 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

FILE - Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka, left, and Britain's Andy Murray pose before their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros stadium, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

FILE - Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka, left, and Britain's Andy Murray pose before their semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros stadium, Friday, June 9, 2017, in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

Coco Gauff of the United States, left, shakes hands with Poland's Iga Swiatek during a semi final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Coco Gauff of the United States, left, shakes hands with Poland's Iga Swiatek during a semi final match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

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