The official news just dropped about Tony Stewart departing Joe Gibbs Racing in 2009, with a year left on his contract.
This move is the first of three expected announcements regarding the two-time NASCAR Cup Champion's future. Step two of the sequence is the rumor that Stewart will be moving into an owner/driver position with Haas/CNC Racing. The third link in the chain is the expected announcement of Office Depot coming on board as Stewart's sponsor at Indianapolis next month.
A fourth step may be Stewart's crew chief Greg Zipadelli making the move along with his driver.
Expect Joey Logano to take over the 20 ride next season. The question will be who comes with him. JGR will probably look to change the driving schedule around for its Nationwide Series teams to provide Logano as much seat time as possible before moving him up to the Cup Series.
Below please find the official press release:
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 9, 2008)—Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and Tony Stewart have agreed to part ways upon the conclusion of the 2008 season.
The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will finish the 2008 Sprint Cup season with JGR behind the wheel of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. Stewart will also compete for JGR in the two NASCAR Nationwide Series races still remaining on his original, nine-race Nationwide Series schedule—July 11 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and Aug. 16 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Stewart will pilot the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota in those two events.
“We’ve had a lot of success with Tony in our 12 years here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR. “While this moment is bittersweet, we’re parting on good terms and we know that each of us has benefited greatly from the other.
“We grew to two teams in the Sprint Cup Series with Tony and The Home Depot in 1999, and two championships and 32 wins followed. While our time together is coming to an end, we know there’s still a lot of racing left this season and we plan to make the most of it. On behalf of everyone at JGR, we’re proud of everything we’ve accomplished together with Tony and we wish him the best in pursuing his dream of NASCAR team ownership.”
Stewart ran five Nationwide Series races for JGR in 1997 while competing full-time in the IRL IndyCar Series. After winning the IndyCar Series championship in 1997, Stewart upped his Nationwide Series schedule with JGR to 22 races in 1998 in preparation for his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series in 1999.
With a then rookie-record three Sprint Cup wins, Stewart collected Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors and finished an impressive fourth in points. After finishing second in Sprint Cup points in 2001, Stewart scored his first Sprint Cup championship in 2002 by 38 points over Mark Martin. He followed that championship with another title run in 2005 when he beat Greg Biffle for the crown by 35 points.
“I cannot thank Joe and J.D. Gibbs enough for the opportunity they gave me and for the support they’ve given me throughout my entire NASCAR career,” Stewart said. “I’ve learned so much from them and have a tremendous amount of respect for what they’ve built.
“I’ve modeled my USAC and World of Outlaws teams the same way they built their NASCAR team, and I made it a point to find good people to run those programs. If I’ve learned anything from my time at Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s that Joe Gibbs’ saying of, ‘You win with people,’ is incredibly true. They always surrounded me with not just good people, but great people, and the results speak for themselves.
“My crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, is the best example of that. We’ve accomplished so much in our 10 years together on the track, and off the track, he’s been like a big brother to me. It’s a friendship I cherish and expect to continue, even while he stays at Joe Gibbs Racing and I move on.
“I also want to thank The Home Depot. We’ve had a fantastic run with them, and it’s not over yet. We can still win races and compete for a championship and go out on top. For 2008, that’s my number one goal.”
Stewart’s parting from JGR at the conclusion of the 2008 season will end the longest active driver/crew chief relationship in the Sprint Cup garage.
“No matter what, Tony and I will remain close friends,” Zipadelli said. “I know when it comes to the No. 20 team, things will obviously be a lot different next year, but I remain as committed as ever this year to winning races with Tony and securing our spot in the Chase to contend for a third championship.”
“The 20 car has been one of the all-time great partnerships in NASCAR for the last decade with the combination of Tony, Zippy, The Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “While we are losing one piece of the puzzle, we think the No. 20 team will remain strong for many years to come.”
Also, a statement from Frank Bifulco, Chief Marketing Officer of Home Depot, regarding Stewart's departure from JGR at the end of the 2008 season just crossed the wires:
“The Home Depot has had a remarkable relationship with Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing since our sponsorship commenced back in 1998. With two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and 32 race wins, Tony is a true competitor and an excellent ambassador for our company. Details regarding our future plans will be announced at a later date.”
UPDATE: 7/9/08 11:52 AM Central (US)
Tony Stewart will conduct a press conference on Thursday 7/10/08 at 1:30 PM Central (US) at Chicagoland Speedway to announce his future plans in NASCAR.
I will provide updates as they become available.