KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Story by Race Chaser Online New England Correspondent Kyle Souza — Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
Before today, arguably one of the best kept secrets in the history of NASCAR was the Joe Gibbs Racing move from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2008. Now, just eight years later, another team is on the move away from Chevrolet to a different manufacturer.
Officials from Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed Wednesday morning that they will be making the move from Chevrolet to Ford for the 2017 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
“This is a constantly evolving sport and we try to make the decisions to best position us for the future,” team co-owner Tony Stewart said. “We feel this future relationship with Ford will provide us with an even brighter future and more championships.”
For Stewart and his team, discussions about a move to Ford have been going on for a long-time and Stewart was surprised, but happy that it had been kept a secret. They felt now was the right time to make the announcement so they could go forward and focus on winning races and a championship in 2016.
“It’s been a little over six months, it started out as just casual conversations and then they got more serious,” Stewart said. “The more that we talked to the group at Ford we realized our passions and desires to win races and championships is the same as it is at SHR. We felt like when we got in conversations with the Ford group it really seemed like it was a good fit.”
Gene Haas, co-owner with Stewart at SHR, also said that the move to Ford seemed to be the right one for the team going forward into the future.
“Racing is a difficult sport and has its ups and downs and we feel that this is a good decision to help our SHR members and our employees for the long-term,” Haas said.
A move to Ford will also mean a move away from the Hendrick Motorsports chassis department for SHR, one they have had enormous success with. They will be creating their own chassis and will be working with Ford on their bodies. Stewart mentioned that he informed Rick Hendrick in the last couple of weeks of the decision.
“At the start of the season, we reached out to Rick and told him we were probably going to be making a move,” Stewart said. “If it wasn’t for Rick, I wouldn’t have had this partnership with Gene (Haas). We wanted to be fair to Rick.”
On the Ford side of the spectrum, the entire Ford industry is extremely excited about having SHR come on as part of their team. It will make a 13-team (full-time) Ford roster on track in 2016 and Ford confirmed nothing will be taken away from any of their other teams.
“I think you’ve seen over the past year with the formulation of Ford Performance that we don’t just race to win but we race to learn,” Dave Pericak said on behalf of Ford. “I think SHR brings with it an enormous amount of expertise. We have been increasing our involvement and our technical support of all of our teams. We’re not eliminiating or reducing anything from any of our teams. We’re in this too win it. Everyone will get the support that they’ve been getting.”
Though Haas had fielded cars with his company name on them at certain times since 2002, the first time an SHR car hit the track was 2009, when Haas partnered with Tony Stewart for a full-time campaign. At the time, Stewart drove one car, while Ryan Newman drove a second for the team. Newman and Stewart both made the Chase for the championship that season, while Stewart scored four victories and Newman did not sit in victory lane.
Newman scored his first career SHR victory in March of 2010 at Phoenix International Raceway, while Stewart went on to win two races in 2010. For SHR, 2011 was the breakout year — when Stewart scored victories in five of the final ten races and beat out Carl Edwards in a tie for the Sprint Cup Series championship that was reverted to victories in the Chase.
Since then, Newman has departed the team, but they have picked up a new driver to fill his seat and two-more drivers to join him. Danica Patrick joined the team in the No. 10 starting in 2012 on a part-time basis and his run full-time since the 2013 season with SHR and has competed their ever since. SHR added Kurt Busch in 2014 and he has scored three wins for the team since his arrival. Kevin Harvick, who also joined the team in 2014, won the championship that season in his first ever ride with SHR. He has sat in victory lane eight times already for the organization.
“We’ve had a great relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and Rick was a big part of helping me become part of the SHR family. We’ve had a great relationship with their technical side but obviously it will change in some respects,” Stewart said as they go forward in 2016. “As far as next year, we’re trying to do everything we can to be as self-sufficient as possible. We’re going to be doing our own chassis program. We see this as a great growth for SHR and it’s a great opportunity for us to get out of the shadows.”
For Stewart himself, it will surely be tough to move away from Chevrolet and GM since he has been with them for almost 20 years, but he thinks it’s the right move for everyone at SHR.
“Obviously, for 20 years I’ve been under the GM banner. I was very honest when I spoke to our employees today that I had never dreamed we would be having this conversation. I have 280 employees to look out for and their families — this was a business decision, it’s what was best for our company in the future. I didn’t have any of those relationships when I came into the sport, I was with Toyota for a year before I came to this organization.”
Though some may say the organization will struggle to get off the ground with Ford next year, Stewart thinks the change will not cause any issues with the success the team has on the track.
“I don’t feel like this will be a step backwards,” Stewart said. “I fully feel like when we come out of the box next year we will have all of our ducks in line.”
We’ll simply have to wait and see how the ducks come out of the box.
About the Writer
Kyle Souza is an aspiring Journalism major at the Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. Souza is Race Chaser Online’s New England motorsports insider, covering everything from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and the PASS North Super Late Models.
When not writing, Souza works at the Seekonk Speedway as the track’s Friday night public address announcer and press writer, and is also the Media Director for both the Granite State Pro Stock Series and the Tri Track Open Modified Series.
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