Published 3:16 am Monday, April 28, 2008

By Staff
Stewart explores options
By Jeff Findley
While not exactly a surprise to me, the revelation this week that Tony Stewart has had discussions to leave Joe Gibbs Racing has produced shockwaves through NASCAR. Stewart, who is under contract with JGR through 2009, confirmed that he is exploring other options with several other teams. In fact, early reports said that Stewart had asked for his release from the final year of his contract, a point that Stewart denied later in the week.
The only team that has been positively identified among that group is Haas CNC Racing. Haas CNC currently fields the No. 66 car with Scott Riggs and the No. 70 car with a rotating set of drivers, including Johnny Sauter and Ken Schrader. Both of those teams are struggling mightily so far this season and it would be a huge upset if they were able to lure Stewart away from Gibbs. Including a significant ownership share of the team, reports are 50 percent, is what it would take to pull this off.
Along with the team ownership, two other factors would make this option attractive to Stewart. First, the team competes in Chevrolets. It is no secret that Stewart still has strong bonds to Chevrolet and General Motors, despite driving Toyotas for Gibbs. Chevrolet sponsors Stewart’s open wheel sprint cars along with sponsoring the dirt track he owns in Eldora, Ohio. The second major factor that could sway Stewart is that Hendrick Motorsports provides engines and technical assistance to Haas.
However, since word leaked that Stewart was listening to offers, other teams have thrown offers on the table, and who’s to blame them.
Before the dust has settled, I believe that Richard Childress will become a major player in this process. With three solid teams currently, Childress has announced that a fourth team, No. 33, would be added to his stable in 2009. General Mills is leaving Petty Enterprises and moving to become the primary sponsor of that fourth team. However, because of the legal settlement between NASCAR and AT&T, this is the final year of AT&T’s sponsorship of the No. 31 car.
Home Depot could possibly move with Stewart, take the No. 33 car, General Mills would move to the No. 31 car with Jeff Burton and that four-car team would rival any, including Hendrick Motorsports. In the event that Home Depot remained with Gibbs, it wouldn’t take too much effort for Childress to find a new sponsor for Stewart or Burton.
Even though Stewart has indicated that the possibility of staying with Gibbs, with a new contract, I can’t see it happening. I think this has gone too far and once a situation makes it to the main stream media, it is very difficult to reverse course.
Keep in the back of your mind this name, Bob Nardelli. This former CEO of Home Depot and Stewart are close friends. Nardelli is now the Chairman and CEO of Chrysler and Dodge. He could make Stewart an unreal offer with all the ownership he wants, along with Stewart becoming with face associated with Dodge. Hey, it is a long shot, but stranger things have happened.
This is a story definitely worth watching as it could produce a tremendous ripple effect. With top-notch drivers like Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex, Bobby Labonte, and Carl Edwards all in the final year of their contracts, we could see more movement that anticipated this season.
After a week off, the boys get busy this week at Talladega. Look for Hendrick to make it two in a row, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr breaking a long winless streak and picking up his sixth career win at the world’s fastest speedway.
Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Roanoke Chowan News Herald, a sister newspaper of The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at jeff.findley@roanoke-

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