NASCAR driver and team owner Tony Stewart announced Wednesday that he will step away from full time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series after 2016. The three time champion and one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers confirmed the widely reported news during a press conference at the Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters in Huntersville North Carolina.
“This is a moment every driver eventually comes to terms with, and I know this is the right decision for me,” said Stewart, “2016 will be my last year in a Sprint Cup car, but it’s not my last year in NASCAR. I love this sport and I love being a part of it, and instead of seeing me in a firesuit on Sundays, you’ll see me in a pair of jeans, and maybe even a pair of khakis.”
Clint Bowyer will join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 as a replacement for Stewart. Bowyer is an eight-time winner in 11 Cup seasons with Richard Childress Racing and more recently Michael Waltrip Racing. That team recently announced that they will be shuttering after this season and had given Bowyer permission to seek other opportunities.
“Today is an incredible opportunity and I’m proud and excited to take over the No. 14 in 2017,” said Bowyer. “Whether it’s racing him on Sunday or watching my dirt late model teams race at his famed Eldora Speedway, Tony and I share the same passion for racing. That makes this opportunity a perfect fit for me. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and the sport of auto racing. These are big shoes to fill, but boy am I ever looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a champion’s ride, and have Tony there with me along the way.”
In addition to being a three-time champion Stewart, 44, is a 48-time winner in NASCAR’s premier series. Prior to joining 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 Sprint Cup . He was 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.
Personally Stewart has struggled lately however. He has not won a Sprint Cup race since 2013, a 69-race winless streak. He sits 25th in the championship point standings and failed to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the third consecutive year.
The Columbus Indiana native is almost as well known for his racing involvement outside of NASCAR. Stewart has maintained a busy racing schedule in primarily dirt cars. That schedule was scaled back in 2013 when Stewart broke his leg a sprint car crash at a speedway in Iowa. He missed nearly all of the second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. He did return in 2014 but in August of last year 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. Since that accident Stewart has confined his racing to NASCAR.
Stewart maintains an extensive 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.
“I plan to make the most of my final year as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and part of that is to ensure that when Clint Bowyer takes over the No. 14 in 2017 he has everything he needs to win races and contend for the championship,” Stewart said. “I’m very comfortable with this decision and what the future holds for me and Stewart-Haas Racing.”
“I never would’ve accomplished all that I’ve achieved in racing if it weren’t for the support of corporate America,” he added. “They helped a kid from Columbus, Indiana, reach his dreams and I’ll be forever grateful.”