In seven full years of existence, Stewart-Haas Racing has won two Sprint Cup Series championships, placed at least one driver in the Chase each year and established itself as easily one of NASCAR’s top two or three organizations.
So with all the pieces in place for a promising future, what led to Wednesday morning’s bombshell announcement that SHR would sever ties with Chevrolet at season’s end and make the switch to Ford in 2017?
As part of the new arrangement, SHR will also end its longstanding technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, which has supplied engines and chassis to SHR since even before 2009, the year Haas CNC Racing became Stewart-Haas Racing and Tony Stewart joined team founder Gene Haas as a co-owner.
Beginning next season, SHR will build its own chassis and use Ford power prepared by Roush Yates Engines.
Stewart, speaking on a teleconference a couple hours after Wednesday’s formal announcement of the manufacturer switch, explained the impetus for the blockbuster move, which will add drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer to the Ford roster of drivers next year.
Stewart, who is currently sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, is retiring at the end of 2016 and will be replaced by Bowyer in SHR’s No. 14 in 2017.
"The more we talked to the group at Ford, the more we realized that our passion and desire to win races and championships, and their approach is very much in line with how we approach it at Stewart-Haas Racing," Stewart said, noting that SHR’s talks with Ford officials began casually a little more than six months ago. "There wasn’t anything in this deal that was a disappointment from the Chevy side. We weren’t disappointed with what we were doing with Chevy, but we felt like when we got in conversations with the Ford group that it just really seemed like a partnership that made a lot of sense the further that we went into it. The longer the conversations went, the more excited that both sides were about making this a reality."
Stewart, a three-time champion of NASCAR’s top series, has been a Chevrolet driver for all but five seasons of his lengthy Cup career — which began in a Pontiac in 1999 at Joe Gibbs Racing, where he competed and won two titles before becoming a driver/co-owner of SHR in 2009.
Although Stewart himself won’t get the opportunity to drive a Ford, he’ll be the co-owner of a Ford organization — a fact that he acknowledges has already led some observers to question his manufacturer loyalty.
"It was a business decision," he said. "It’s what is best for our company going forward. There’s a little bit of a tug-o-war with me because of my loyalty, but, at the same time, I didn’t have any of those relationships when I came into this sport. I went through the same thing when Joe Gibbs Racing switched to Toyota. I was with Toyota for a year before I came over with Gene’s organization, so I’ve kind of been down this road.
"I would be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been on Twitter since 9 o’clock reading what everybody has been writing. I respect everybody’s views on it, but this was a decision that was made because of the passion that I see with Ford and their commitment to Stewart-Haas Racing in the future. I understand there are people that are gonna be upset about it, and then I’ve read comments that people are ecstatic about it. This is what we felt like was best, and as a business owner you can’t overlook great opportunities and that’s what this was — it was a great opportunity for our company."
And it was an opportunity that neither party could pass up, given SHR’s proclivity for winning and the fact that Ford hasn’t won a Sprint Cup title since one of SHR’s current drivers — Busch — captured the championship for Roush Fenway Racing in 2004.
"We definitely are very serious about winning championships," said Dave Pericak, Global Director, Ford Performance. "I think we have demonstrated that passion to do so and there is no doubt that the Stewart-Haas team comes with that capability. That’s really important to us to be adding that to our lineup. … This is really about adding to an already strong Ford team and making it even stronger, and aligning all of our teams around the vision that we have of getting back in the winner’s circle."