NASCAR champion Tony Stewart announced Wednesday that he will step away from full time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series after 2016.
Clint Bowyer will join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 as a replacement for Stewart. Bowyer, finished 26th in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and is 16th in the Chase standings. An eight-time winner in 11 Cup seasons, Bowyer was recently released by Michael Waltrip Racing, which won’t field a team next season.
In addition to being a three-time champion Stewart, 44, is a 48-time winner in NASCAR’s premier series. He has struggled lately however. Stewart is currently in the midst of a 69-race winless streak, his most recent victory coming at Dover in 2013. He is currently 25th in the points standings and failed to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third consecutive year.
Stewart’s troubles have not been confined to a NASCAR track. In 2014, Stewart was involved in an incident on a track in upstate New York. A sprint car being raced by Stewart killed driver Kevin Ward, after Ward walked onto the track after a crash involving Stewart. A grand jury cleared Stewart of any wrongdoing but Ward’s family has filed a wrongful death suit against Stewart and that case is pending. Stewart also missed the final third of the 2013 season with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash at a speedway in Iowa.
Prior to coming to NASCAR in 1999 as part of Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart raced for three years on the IndyCar circuit, scoring three victories. He left JGR at the end of 2008 and became a team owner through a partnership with Gene Haas starting in 2009. Since its founding, the Stewart-Haas team has grown from a two-car to a four-car operation. Both Stewart and then teammate Ryan Newman (who is now with Richard Childress Racing) made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in that first season. Stewart won the team’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup title in 2011, winning five races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and becoming the first driver/owner to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. The organization expanded to three full-time teams adding Danica Patrick in 2013, then went to four full-time teams in 2014, with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch joining drivers Stewart and Patrick.
The organization won its second NASCAR Sprint Cup title last year Harvick. This season Harvick along with Stewart-Haas Racing driver and former champion Busch both qualified for this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
In addition to his part ownership in SHR, Stewart has a motorsports portfolio that includes Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH (purchased in 2004) and several racing teams in various series. Tony Stewart Racing fields entries for six-time and reigning World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz and 20-time World of Outlaws champion, Steve Kinser. Earlier this year Stewart announced the purchase of the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series with a schedule that boasts 50 race dates.
With an estimated net worth of over $70 million and a broad reach into other forms of motorsports, don’t except Stewart to ride off into the retirement sunset. With continued involvement in his NASCAR Sprint Cup team, his Tony Stewart Racing teams and his racing series and tracks Stewart will have plenty to do. And while he may not race full time in NASCAR after next season, there are indications that unlike fellow legend Jeff Gordon, who is retiring at the end of this season and has stated will not race again, Stewart may race in select Cup races for several years more. With all that and the often outspoken nature he is known for fans will be hearing from the driver known as “Smoke” for many years to come. Wednesday may mark the closing of a chapter but the era of Tony Stewart is far from over.