Tony Stewart, three-time champion, announced Wednesday afternoon that he would step away from full-time competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup following the 2016 season, after months of speculation about his future.
Stewart, 44, has won three premier series titles as a driver in 2002 the then NASCAR Winston Cup, and a NEXTEL Cup in 2005 with Joe Gibbs Racing and Sprint Cup in 2011 for Stewart-Haas Racing; he has two as a car owner, 2011 and 2014 with Kevin Harvick, driving the #4 for SHR. He has 48 career victories in 582 NASCAR Sprint Cup series races with 182 top-fives and 299 top 10’s and well over 16,000 miles led.
“Next year will be my last year in the Sprint Cup Series. It was a choice that was 100 percent mine,” Stewart said. “I think it’s a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it’s time for a change and it’s nothing that you plan… I think deep down you know when it’s time to do something to make a change like this.”
The team also announced Wednesday that Clint Bowyer would replace Stewart at SHR, beginning in the 2017 season.
Stewart has gain victories in every car he drove, he won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 15 straight seasons from his 1999 rookie year through 2013, and he has 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins in 94 starts, that’s a win in every 8.5 starts in the series. He has won twice in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and had five top-10 finishes, a victory in every 3 starts with the truck series.
Along with NASCAR, Stewart has an impressive resume 1996 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race, 1997 IndyCar champion; he is the only driver to have both an IndyCar and NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He has earned four victories in IROC competition, earning the 2006 IROC championship and finished as a runner-up in 2001.
In his rookie season in Sprint Cup in 1999, Stewart completed racing’s Memorial Day “Double,” racing 1100 miles, he would finish ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 later that same day in Charlotte, North Carolina. He went on to win Rookie of the Year in 1999 after winning three races Richmond, Phoenix and Homestead surpassing Davey Allison’s record set in 1987 (Stewart’s record would hold until 2002 when Jimmie Johnson tied his record of three victories in a rookie season)
In 1995 Stewart became the first driver in history to win all three major United States Auto Club national championships, Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown in a single season.
“It’s neat to be the first guy to do it, but I wouldn’t venture to say I’ll be the last,” said Stewart of being the only driver with Indy and NASCAR titles. “Somebody else can come along and do the same thing. It’s always a possibility…records are made to be broken.”
Currently Stewart sits 25th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings with only two top-10 finishes in the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this year. With the announcement Stewart clarified his new role he will shift his focus to being a team owner, his Tony Stewart Racing open-wheel teams have won 14 USAC championships and five in the World of Outlaws series. Along with Eldora Speedway in Ohio, he holds ownership stakes in two other mid-western tracks.
“I’m still going to race,” Stewart added. “I’m not retiring from racing; I’m just retiring from the Sprint Cup Series. I’m not totally getting away from it, just focusing on the owner side.”
Presently the SHR #4 team is the reigning Sprint Cup champion due to the success of Harvick 2014 run. And two of the four drivers Harvick and Kurt Busch are in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship run.
As for Stewart’s last season his goals are to win a Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500 and possibly the 2016 Championship. He said, ‘We’re going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year.”