Jim O'Donnell: Even Michael Jordan couldn't save an endless Daytona 500
FOR FANS OF NASCAR INCLUSIVITY, last Sunday's Daytona 500 was supposed to be a momentous event.
Probably the most momentous stock car happening since Black country singer Charley Pride almost guest starred in a "celebrity speed trap" segment on "The Dukes of Hazzard."
No less than Michael Jordan - he of air, space and championship jam fame - was making his debut as a principal NASCAR owner and the first Black person ever to command such a role.
Instead, rolled over by a five-hour weather delay, the Fox telecast averaged a record-low 4.8 million viewers before ending close to midnight after a 2:30 p.m. start.
That was far below last winter's weak 8.3 million and lap-arounds from Daytona's all-time high of 18.7 million who watched longshot Ward Burton cruise in 2002.
Last fall, the announcement was made that Hare Jordan had completed arrangements to be the majority operator of the new 23XI Racing.
The "XI" represents minority partner Denny Hamlin, the premier NASCAR wheeler who also still drives for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Michael Strahan anchored a pretaped garage segment featuring Jordan, Hamlin and Bubba Wallace, the 27-year-old NASCAR grinder who would drive No. 23 in the main event.
Jordan acknowledged his fandom went back to his days as a kid in Wilmington, N.C, when his father - James "Pops" Jordan - was a huge devotee of the regional religion:
"My father'd pack us up in the car and take us down to Darlington, to Rockingham. We'd go to Daytona, Talladega.
"We'd just go and spend the whole day."
If the Jordans had attended the 2021 Daytona 500 en masse, they also would have spent a good part of the night.
One-fourth of the 40-car field was wiped out in an early crash.
Then the five-hour weather delay ensued.
Fox stayed with Daytona throughout the storm, airing just about every feature this side of Jack Brickhouse's old reliable "1948 World Series Highlights."
Finally, racing resumed and didn't end until after midnight on the East Coast.
That was when the 80-1 shot Michael McDowell inherited the win after a spectacular five-car flamer up front on the 200th and final lap.
Wallace managed a credible 17th for Jordan. He ran particularly well in the middle segment, when he became the first Black driver to ever lead a lap at Daytona.
For Fox, it was a four-star effort to further "mainstream the moonshiners" but riddled with bolt after bolt of bad luck.
Jordan and Team 23XI are due at Homestead-Miami for The Dixie Vodka 400 on Sunday, Feb. 28.
But one race in, NASCAR's most famous Black owner learned that it's a lot easier to win championships when you're the one driving.
To a basketball hoop.
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• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.