|For Haas and Stewart, it's all about winning.|
Today’s announcement was the biggest manufacturer move since Joe Gibbs Racing bolted from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2008; bigger even than Team Penske’s decision to leave Dodge for Ford in 2013.
Stewart Haas has been a Chevrolet team since Gene Haas founded his fledgling Cup Series team in 2002. Chevy loyalist Rick Hendrick reportedly helped broker the deal that brought Tony Stewart to SHR as part-owner in 2009, triggering a competitive ascent that culminated in a pair of Sprint Cup Series championships with Stewart (2011) and Kevin Harvick (2014).
Hendrick Motorsports has provided chassis and engines to SHR for the last eight seasons, sharing information and technology freely with their bowtie brethren.
Ford, meanwhile, has been shut-out of NASCAR’s championship picture since 2003 and 2004, when Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch claimed back-to-back titles for Roush Fenway Racing. Both Kenseth and Busch ultimately chose to leave RFR and Ford for greener pastures, after the team plummeted in the championship standings and proved incapable of quickly righting the competitive ship. Kenseth now drives Toyotas for Gibbs, while Busch -- ironically -- plies his trade for Stewart Haas.
Ford has advanced just one driver -- Team Penske’s Joey Logano in 2014 -- to NASCAR’s Homestead Final Four. Clearly, the Blue Oval was in need of a quick, competitive pick-me-up. Stewart Haas Racing will provide that help, in spades.
“We have said very clearly that we are not in NASCAR just to race, but to win races and championships,” said Dave Pericak, Global Director of Ford Performance today. “We believe the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 will give our program a major boost in terms of being in contention for both drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships every year.
“We believe that our NASCAR engineering experience and tools match up very well with the expertise and personnel that Stewart-Haas Racing has in house right now, and that we will both benefit from this partnership going forward.”
Stewart Haas Racing’s unexpected turn reportedly includes a substantial outlay of cash by Ford, along with promises of long-term technological support. And while money does indeed make the world go `round, SHR – like Ford -- is in business to win races and championships.
Stewart – previously a Chevy man to the core -- will wear Ford’s Blue Oval in 2017, charting new manufacturer waters for the first time since his awkward, Toyota-powered final season at JGR. Harvick will drive something other than a Chevrolet for the first time, as well. Their partnership with Hendrick Motorsports -- so successful for so long – will be left by the wayside in favor of a powerhouse new deal that is as promising as it is surprising.
For those long-term loyalties to be cast aside, Stewart, Gene Hass, Harvick and the rest of Stewart Haas Racing clearly believe that their race team will be better under the Ford banner than it has been in the Chevrolet camp.
At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.