More information has surfaced on the story we first discussed yesterday; that two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is working on a deal to jump from Joe Gibbs Racing to Haas CNC Racing next season. Both ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated’s website -- SI.com – say Stewart will be given partial ownership in Haas CNC Racing, in exchange for his agreement to drive for the team, beginning in 2008.
Stewart’s contract with JGR runs through the 2009 campaign, making a move before then extremely complicated, if not impossible. Stewart's PR spokesman, Mike Arning, admitted as much yesterday, saying, “He's there this year, and he's there next year. I know for a fact that JGR is interested in retaining Tony for 2010 and beyond. They'd like him to retire at Joe Gibbs Racing. As Tony's said many times, 'Nothing's broke. Why change it?'”
The reports persist, however, saying that Stewart has begun talks with JGR officials to obtain a release from the final year of his contract. Team President J.D. Gibbs made it clear that he expects Stewart to honor his contract to the letter, saying, “The reality is, he's racing here through 2009. There's no ifs, ands or buts about that one. Our stance is he's racing for us through 2009."
The reported deal has Stewart receiving as much as a 50% ownership stake in Haas-CNC Racing, while also being paid to drive one of their two Chevrolets. Haas-CNC General Manager Joe Custer admitted today that he has spoken with several parties about the future of the team, including Stewart's representatives. That admission contradicts the statements of Haas-CNC spokesman Ron Mench, who said yesterday that there has been no communication with Stewart. Custer said that no deal has been reached, but that he would be “interested in discussing a partnership with a driver of (Stewart’s) caliber."
If the move happens, Stewart would return to the Chevrolet camp after a year with Toyota. Many observers point to Stewart’s ongoing relationship with Chevrolet -– which supplies engines to his open wheel midget and sprint car teams -– as a major factor in his decision to bolt JGR. However, Stewart drove JGR Chevrolets for many years, while receiving Mopar engines and financial backing for his short track programs.