Shocking news out of the Stewart-Haas Racing garage today saw longtime NASCAR sponsor Office Depot announce that they would be vacating their 22-race co-primary sponsorship of defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart after this season (via Nascar.com). The partnership, which began in 2009, will end with a minimum of 14 race victories through 144 starts, as well as last year's title.
While the effects of the sponsor search on Stewart will be significant, the ramifications of the announcement on the rest of the garage—especially within SHR—may be just as big.
The biggest name that may be affected by the deal is Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate since the foundation of SHR in 2009 and a potential free agent this offseason.
While Newman's wife Krissie has tweeted that a deal with the team is "close," the reality is that Newman is also losing a major sponsor after the season: the US Army, which was responsible for 12 races this year and more in the past.
Newman's car has also carried sponsorship from Outback Steakhouse, Tornados and Wix Filters, among others, over the season. There's a chance, however, that SHR may work from within to try to move sponsors to fund Stewart's car because of how late Office Depot made their announcement.
The fallback option within the team is co-owner Gene Haas' automation company, which backs Newman in six races per year and used to sponsor more in its pre-Stewart years. But if SHR is not able to fund both cars, Stewart is the priority as team owner, and with Danica Patrick due to join the Sprint Cup schedule as a full-time driver next year, she could inherit Newman's owners' points, leaving him out of a ride.
The winner in that scenario would be Tommy Baldwin Racing, which would go from having one car with a top 35 spot in owners' points to two after their alliance with SHR ceases at the end of the season. That could allow Baldwin to bring in a higher-caliber driver, after primarily running with Dave Blaney, Tony Raines and David Reutimann this year.
As for Newman, he would arguably be an upgrade for a few teams, including Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 43 Ford, JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 47 Toyota, and perhaps even in a return to Penske Racing in the No. 22 Ford if he moves on from SHR.
Neither Newman nor SHR want to bring their four-year alliance to an end, one that has brought three race wins and two Chase appearances, with a third possible this year. But with 34 races worth of money—almost a full season's worth—evaporating, and many 2013 deals already inked, time is running out for the team to keep Newman on board.