After the New Hampshire Nextel Cup Race in September, Tony Stewart was asked about his impending contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs has been the only Nextel Cup owner Stewart has worked for in his nine year career and it seemed a given that Stewart would sign an extension without hesitation. However, Stewart’s answer to the relatively simple question raised some eyebrows on pit road. And now we may know why.
"I'm not even going to work on it any more until this season is over - seriously," said Stewart. "All these (outside) things like right now are a total distraction to what I'm trying to accomplish the rest of the season, and that's why I'm not going to do any more than I have to do until the end of the year," he said. "My goal is to win the championship and focus on the things I have to focus on to get that done."
Then a week later, NASCAR.com reported that Richard Childress would likely “hold off” on developing a fourth team to go along with his current stable of drivers, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer until 2009. NASCAR nation had been waiting months for Childress to name his fourth driver for 2008 and speculation was rampant as to whom the driver would be.
"We're working on it, but right now we're about at the point of no return [for next season]," said Childress.
Hmmm…Stewart isn’t ready to re-up with Gibbs (Stewart’s current contract runs through 2009), and Childress says he isn’t ready to commit to a driver yet for 2008. Coincidence? Not really.
Sources close to Richard Childress confirmed to Captain Thunder that Tony Stewart has indeed had conversations with Richard Childress about joining the RCR stables and good buddy Kevin Harvick as soon as 2008. Stewart has driven Busch Series cars for Harvick and Harvick’s wife DeLana, and the three have been very close for many years.
Why would Stewart leave Gibbs and can he? The two-time Nextel Cup champion has been rumored to be very disappointed with the switch at Joe Gibbs Racing from Chevrolet to Toyota beginning with the 2008 season, and sources say he has had serious conversations with Richard Childress about voiding his contract at seasons end.
Stewart has driven a General Motors car his entire career and he also supports the Chevy brand at the hometown racetrack he bought in New Weston, OH, Eldora Speedway. Eldora was a Mopar supported track but Stewart switched everything at the track to Chevy two years ago. Toyota has said they are fine with Stewart running and supporting Chevrolet at the track he owns, but sources say Stewart is not excited about running Toyota’s in the Nextel Cup Series.
Can he get out of his deal with JGR early? Yes! Stewart has an “out clause” in his contract and he just might use it to join RCR. His “out” is the manufacturer change to Toyota from Chevrolet. Many Nextel Cup drivers have similar clauses in their contracts allowing them to void their deals if there is a “material change” at their respective teams. The decision by JGR to change manufacturers is certainly a “material change” and it would allow Stewart to opt out of his deal early.
According to sources, Stewart and Childress have agreed to table any conversations in the media until either the Chase for the Nextel Cup is over, or Stewart is mathematically eliminated.
Hence, the comments by both follow the New Hampshire race. Nevertheless, sources also said the two have already agreed verbally on a deal that would put Stewart in a Richard Childress Chevrolet in 2008. Keep an eye on this one, “Smoke” could be a part of the bow-tie brigade next season after all.