Add another line to Tony Stewart's resume: team owner.
Joe Gibbs Racing announced Wednesday it has agreed to release Stewart, a two-time Cup Series champion, from the final year of his contract. In turn, Stewart is purchasing what is believed to be a 50 percent stake in Haas CNC Racing and will drive for the team in 2009.
"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 in a team statement. "I've learned so much from them and have a tremendous amount of respect for what they've built.
Tony Stewart is taking a risk by, in essence, venturing out on his own. But in doing so he has a chance to secure a greater legacy, writes Joe Menzer.
"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.
A formal announcement is expected on Thursday.
"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.
"We grew to two teams in the Sprint Cup Series with Tony and The Home Depot in 1999, and two championships and 32 wins followed. While our time together is coming to an end, we know there's still a lot of racing left this season and we plan to make the most of it. On behalf of everyone at JGR, we're proud of everything we've accomplished together with Tony and we wish him the best in pursuing his dream of NASCAR team ownership."
Stewart was linked to Haas CNC Racing as early as Talladega weekend in April. At that time he said, "A wise person told me it never cost a dime to listen, so right now we're all ears."
Stewart ran five races for JGR in 1997 in what is now known as the Nationwide Series while competing full-time in the IRL IndyCar Series. After winning the IndyCar Series championship in 1997, Stewart upped his Nationwide Series schedule with JGR to 22 races in 1998 in preparation for his rookie season in the Cup Series in 1999.
With a then rookie-record three Cup wins, Stewart collected Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors and finished an impressive fourth in points. After finishing second in Cup points in 2001, Stewart scored his first championship in 2002 by 38 points over Mark Martin. He followed that championship with another title run in 2005 when he beat Greg Biffle for the crown by 35 points.
Stewart's parting from JGR at the conclusion of the 2008 season will end the longest active driver/crew chief relationship in the Sprint Cup garage. Greg Zipadelli will remain as crew chief of the No. 20 Toyota in 2009.
"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," Stewart said.
"No matter what, Tony and I will remain close friends," Zipadelli said. "I know when it comes to the No. 20 team, things will obviously be a lot different next year, but I remain as committed as ever this year to winning races with Tony and securing our spot in the Chase to contend for a third championship."
Stewart currently is 12th in the standings, just two points ahead of Kevin Harvick.
"We can still win races and compete for a championship and go out on top. For 2008, that's my number one goal," said Stewart, who will also compete for JGR in the two Nationwide races still remaining on his original, nine-race series schedule -- Friday at Chicagoland and Aug. 16 at Michigan.
Speculation is that Nationwide rookie Joey Logano will move into the No. 20 car vacated by Stewart. However, sources confirmed to NASCAR.COM that no decision has been made on who will replace Stewart on the team after this season.
"The 20 car has been one of the all-time great partnerships in NASCAR for the last decade with the combination of Tony, Zippy, The Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "While we are losing one piece of the puzzle, we think the No. 20 team will remain strong for many years to come."
There is no word on Haas CNC's current stable -- including Scott Riggs in the No. 66 and the No. 70, which has had several drivers this season.