In one of the most shocking announcements in recent NASCAR history, Stewart-Haas Racing officials said the team will switch from Chevrolets to Fords next year and beyond, thanks to a new multi-year deal between the parties.
It will be the biggest manufacturer switch since Joe Gibbs Racing moved from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2008, and the ripple effects will be significant.
Since its inception in 2009, SHR has been closely aligned with Chevrolet. In fact, it was car owner Rick Hendrick who brokered the deal to bring Tony Stewart into what had been known as Haas-CNC Racing. And Hendrick Motorsports has provided engines and chassis to SHR ever since. That, obviously, will no longer be the case.
Stewart himself has been as synonymous with Chevrolet through the years as he has with Schlitz and pizza. They just went together naturally, and Stewart had a lot of Chevrolet support with his open-wheel teams. So to make this move is well and truly jaw dropping.
SHR already has won two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, one with Stewart in 2011 and one with Kevin Harvick in 2014. At the moment, SHR is one of the four true elite teams in NASCAR's top series, along with Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
Ford hasn't won a Sprint Cup title since 2004 when Kurt Busch -- ironically, now with SHR -- won the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in one of Jack Roush's Fords. Busch's title came one year after Matt Kenseth won a championship with Roush.
And with the recent domination by Joe Gibbs Racing, Ford had fallen to No. 3 among the automakers in the Cup Series behind Chevrolet and Toyota.
It was clear Ford needed to make a bold move, because in the last two years, the only competitive team it had was Team Penske. During that time, Ford only got one car into the final round of the Chase, and that was Joey Logano in 2014.
Starting next year, Ford will have a championship-caliber team to go with its existing partners.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but for Ford to lure away one of the two top Chevrolet teams, rest assured it was an extremely lucrative deal.
"We have said very clearly that we are not in NASCAR just to race, but to win races and championships," said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. "We believe the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 will give our program a major boost in terms of being in contention for both drivers' and manufacturers' championships every year.
"We believe that our NASCAR engineering experience and tools match up very well with the expertise and personnel that Stewart-Haas Racing has in house right now, and that we will both benefit from this partnership going forward."
And suddenly, the NASCAR season just got a whole lot more interesting.