By AMANDA VINCENT
According to Jim Utter, NASCAR Editor at Motorsport.com, multiple sources have confirmed to him that the 2016 season will be Tony Stewart’s last as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season. An official announcement is expected in the coming week.
Stewart is a three-time champion as a driver and a two-time champion as a car owner in NASCAR’s top series, claiming driver championships in 2002, 2005 and 2011 and owner titles in 2011 and 2014. His 2014 owner championship came with Kevin Harvick behind the wheel of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 Chevrolet. Stewart won his first two driver championships from behind the wheel of the No. 20 entry of Joe Gibbs Racing and his most recent as driver/owner of the No. 14 Chevrolet of Stewart-Haas Racing, a team he co-owns with Gene Haas.
Stewart began full-time NASCAR Cup level racing in 1999 as driver of the JGR No. 20. He remained with the Gibbs organization until he was offered the opportunity at NASCAR team ownership with half ownership in Stewart-Haas Racing, beginning with the 2009 season.
Stewart has 48-career wins at the Cup level, including three wins in his rookie season. His last win, though, came in 2013. He’s struggled since and missed multiple races in both 2013 and 2014. He suffered a broken leg at a sprint car race in Iowa in August 2013 that sidelined him for the remainder of that season. Nearly a year later, Stewart missed three races as he coped with the aftermath of an incident during a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in which his car struck Kevin Ward Jr. Ward died as a result of injuries sustained in the incident. A New York grand jury cleared Stewart of criminal charges, but he faces a wrongful death civil suit filed by Ward’s parents.
The 2015 season, to this point, has been the worst of Stewart’s career. Through 28 races, he has yet to post a top-five finish, and he has only two top-10s. His best finish of the season, so far, was a sixth at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway. He finished just outside the top-10 in 11th Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Stewart, considered a future NASCAR Hall of Famer, was a well-decorated racer before reaching NASCAR. In 1995, he became the first driver to win USAC’s Triple Crown — championships in National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown divisions of USAC. Two years later he was champion of the Indy Racing League.
Aside from driving and team ownership in NASCAR, Stewart’s business portfolio includes sprint car team and series ownership and track ownership, among other racing-related businesses. He fields World of Outlaws sprint car entries through his Tony Stewart Racing team and is owner of Eldora Speedway, a dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio. Earlier this year he bought a sprint car racing series — the All-Star Circuit of Champions.
According to Utter’s report, multiple sources have confirmed speculation that has run rampant since an announcement of the demise of Michael Waltrip Racing. That speculation has current MWR driver Clint Bowyer spending a year at HScott Motorsports in 2016 before moving to SHR to replace Stewart behind the wheel of the No. 14.
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