Tony Stewart to leave Joe Gibbs Racing was confirmed today by the team he has been with for 12 years, winning two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and 32 victories, thus far in his career with the same team. Stewart will hold a press ...
Tony Stewart to leave Joe Gibbs Racing was confirmed today by the team he has been with for 12 years, winning two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and 32 victories, thus far in his career with the same team. Stewart will hold a press conference which the fans can tune into on Thursday, July 10th, where he will formally announce his new challenge for 2009 and beyond.
"We've had a lot of success with Tony in our 12 years here at Joe Gibbs Racing," said J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR. "While this moment is bittersweet, we're parting on good terms and we know that each of us has benefited greatly from the other."
The new challenge for the Cup series driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota next year will see him take on the role of co-team owner but that does not mean he will step out of a race car, quite the contrary, Stewart will continue as a driver in his return to General Motors, after one year racing for Toyota.
Stewart has been granted a release from the final year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and will join with Haas CNC Racing to form a new team for the 2009 season and beyond.
"I cannot thank Joe and J.D. Gibbs enough for the opportunity they gave me and for the support they've given me throughout my entire NASCAR career," Stewart said. "I've learned so much from them and have a tremendous amount of respect for what they've built."
While it is unsure what number Stewart will drive in 2009, the No.'s 02, 14, 25, 66, and 70 are all leading contenders. Currently Scott Riggs handles the wheel on the No. 66 Haas CNC Racing Chevy. Jason Leffler recently ran for the team at Pocono in the No. 70 Chevy. It also appears that Chevrolet helped buy Stewart out of his final year with JGR and arrange the partial ownership with Haas Automation owner Gene Haas and team manager/car owner Joe Custer.
Stewart is not new to being a team owner, he owns two World of Outlaw cars with driver Donny Schatz currently leading the points. Plus his USAC Sprint and Silver Crown team. The racer from Indiana made his mark in USAC in 1995 when he became the first driver to notch the USAC Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles in 1995. Plus he brought back to life, the famous Eldora Speedway in Ohio.
"I've modeled my USAC and World of Outlaws teams the same way they built their NASCAR team, and I made it a point to find good people to run those programs. If I've learned anything from my time at Joe Gibbs Racing, it's that Joe Gibbs' saying of, 'You win with people,' is incredibly true. They always surrounded me with not just good people, but great people, and the results speak for themselves," added Stewart.
Now it appears that Stewart looks to be courting Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 Dodge in the Cup series to join his stable for 2009. Only time will tell if Newman leaves the Penske stable to drive for Stewart.
Sponsors are unclear also but it would not be a surprise to see Old Spice partner with Home Deport and possibly Burger King in some arrangement over the Stewart Haas Racing cars in 2009. Jack Daniels, who has lost their driver in 2009 with RCR's five full time sponsors for only four cars in 2009, is also a possibility. Office Depot is also a consideration as a sponsor.
When Stewart made his move to stockcar racing, it was with Ranier/Walsh Racing under the former banner: NASCAR Busch Series in 1996 [now Nationwide]. The next year, he did five races with Joe Gibbs while chasing the Indy Racing League championship, which he earned. He remained in the IRL in 1998 but stayed with JGR running 22 Nationwide events, taking two poles and five top-5 finishes. History was then made and Stewart left the IRL and moved up to the Cup series.
In 1999, he earned the Cup Rookie of the Year honors and became one of the top chasers for the Cup over the next several years, finally taking the title in 2002. He repeated that feat in 2005.
Stewart commented on his long relationship with his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli: "We've accomplished so much in our 10 years together on the track, and off the track, he's been like a big brother to me. It's a friendship I cherish and expect to continue, even while he stays at Joe Gibbs Racing and I move on."
The Cup and Nationwide series will compete this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois. Stewart heads to the 19th round in the Cup series holding 12th in the standings with eight top-10 finishes. He is also running a limited schedule in the Nationwide series with five wins this season.
Stay tune tomorrow for an update on Tony Stewart's plans in 2009.