Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Car Smell?

There's a huge story rocking the NASCAR world right now, and it has nothing to do with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Media reports abound Wednesday that Tony Stewart was in discussions with Joe Gibbs Racing officials about opting out of the final year of his contract. Stewart's deal driving the No. 20 Toyota runs out at the end of the 2009 season.

Talk about coming out of nowhere ... I didn't realize Stewart's contract was running out at the conclusion of next season, and it floors me that he would consider leaving JGR. Thirty-two career wins and two Cup titles ... and it's obvious the team hasn't lost a step since switching from Chevrolet to Toyota.

So why move?

Anonymous sources told's Marty Smith Stewart is interested in owning a team, and could be in discussions to form a partnership with HAAS/CNC Racing, which currently fields the Nos. 66 and 70 Chevrolets in the Sprint Cup Series. The organization does receive equipment and support from Hendrick Motorsports, but the teams' struggles -- Scott Riggs' No. 66 sits 28th in points and Jeremy Mayfield was let go from the No. 70 before the Phoenix race -- make a move to own and drive for HAAS/CNC a questionable one for someone who's literally been a contender from day one.

An organization that associates itself with Mayfield isn't exactly a beacon of stability.

But there is something to be said, I suppose, for the fact that Stewart is winless so far this season. While that's not surprising -- Stewart normally finds his groove once summer comes around and the temperatures rise -- his JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and new guy Kyle Busch have already found Victory Lane.

Busch has consistently outran Stewart so far this season, and considering I already thought the combination of Stewart and Busch could blow up in everyone's face at some point, I can't help but wonder if rather than lash out at Busch, Stewart suddenly just decided to cut his JGR ties and move on.

But here's a move that makes sense to me, one nobody has said word one about:

Richard Childress is adding a fourth car to its Cup garage next season, and he already has a sponsor lined up in General Mills. While I believe Home Depot will go wherever Stewart goes, I can't help but wonder if driving for a guy who won six Cup titles with the late Dale Earnhardt wouldn't appeal to Stewart.

Smith's sources at ESPN also say returning to Chevrolet is a priority for Stewart, and Childress fields Chevrolets. So does Rick Hendrick, and some fantasy racing geeks will salivate at the potential line-up of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart. But I don't realizstically see it happening.

Former New York Yankees guru George Steinbrenner thinks that lineup's a tad ridiculous.

I don't see Dale Earnhardt, Inc. becoming a player, either; Stewart and Junior are good friends, and I have a feeling Stewart is aware of the tense circumstances under which Junior left his late father's company.

So removing Hendrick, DEI and HAAS-CNC, RCR is the only team that makes much sense. I'm not exactly thrilled with someone so successful leaving the team with which he had that success, but if Stewart really wants out, then I think something's going on at JGR to which none of us are privy.

Things are about to get very interesting, that much is certain.

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