By AMANDA VINCENT
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart made his retirement plans official during a press conference at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, N.C., on Wednesday, announcing that the 2016 race season would be his last as a Sprint Cup Series driver.
“This is a moment every driver eventually comes to terms with, and I know this is the right decision for me,” Stewart said.
Stewart also announced that Clint Bowyer would replace him behind the wheel of the No. 14 in 2017. Bowyer also was at the press conference to answer questions from the media, but he declined to announce where he would bide his time in 2016 after the closure of Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of 2015. Speculation has Bowyer spending the 2016 season at HScott Motorsports.
“Today is an incredible opportunity, and I’m proud and excited to take over the No. 14 in 2017,” Bowyer said. “Whether it’s racing him on Sunday or watching my dirt late model teams race at his famed Eldora Speedway, Tony and I share the same passion for racing. That makes this opportunity a perfect fit for me.”
Stewart said he would still be around the NASCAR garage as half owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, stating that he’d still be at the track every weekend and would continue to work with sponsors.
“2016 will be my last year in a Sprint Cup car, but it’s not my last year in NASCAR,” Stewart said. “I love this sport, and I love being a part of it, and instead of seeing me in a firesuit on Sundays, you’ll see me in a pair of jeans, and maybe even a pair of khakis.”
Stewart also said that his retirement only pertained to driving in the Sprint Cup Series. He plans to compete in other racing series as a driver whenever his schedule allowed, but doesn’t have specific plans, yet. One example he provided, though, was Modified racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Stewart has been a full-time competitor in the NASCAR Spprint Cup Series in 1999. He is the only driver to win championships at NASCAR’s top level under three entitlement sponsors. He was 2002 Winston Cup champion, 2005 Nextel Cup champion and 2011 Sprint Cup champion. The 2002 and 2005 titles were won behind the wheel of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing entry before becoming half owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. He was the champion driver/owner in 2011 and won a second NASCAR owner championship in 2014 with Kevin Harvick as driver. In all, Stewart has 48 race wins at the Cup level.
After Stewart’s press conference, Chevrolet released a statement regarding the retirement announcement.
“Tony Stewart has been a key member of our racing family for nearly 20 years,” the statement from Chevrolet’s US Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports Jim Campbell read. “The majority of his race wins and championships — regardless of series — have been with our brands.
“Not only is he a championship-winning driver and team owner, he is an entrepreneur and gives back to numerous charities. Through his Tony Stewart Foundation, he pours his heart into causes that support children, animals and others in need of assistance.
“We value our long-standing partnership with Tony and look forward to joining his fans in celebrating his final season as a full-time driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.”
NASCAR also released the following statement from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France:
“When I think of Tony Stewart, unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind. He has won championships and millions of fans. But he has given back so much more, and that’s what I admire most. Today’s news was bittersweet for us all, but we know Tony will continue to be a big part of our sport in his roles as a team and track owner. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Tony for his many years of excellence and competitiveness and wish him nothing but the best in his final season as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series.”
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