Stewart to retire from Cup after ’16, Bowyer named replacement

It’s official: Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will retire from driving the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet following the 2016 season. Stewart will be replaced behind the wheel by Clint Bowyer, though he will remain co-owner of the four-car SHR squad and after his retirement will dabble in other forms of motorsports.

Stewart, 44, made the announcement Wednesday at SHR’s shops in Kannapolis, North Carolina, during a press conference with his partner, team co-owner Gene Haas.

“It was a choice that was 100 percent mine,” Stewart said. “There wasn’t any pressure from anybody. If anything, it was the opposite. I had more people trying to talk me out of it than anything. You know, I think it’s a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it’s time for a change, and it’s nothing that you plan. I think it’s just ‑- I think it happens. I think deep down you know when it’s time to do something to make a change like this.”

Although ending his full-time career as a driver after 2016, Stewart said he will now have the opportunity to do the occasional race in modifieds, dirt cars or even the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck series. Plus, he’ll get to watch Haas build his Formula One team from the ground up.

“I’m excited about what we’re doing in the future,” Stewart said. “The great thing is I think a lot of athletes and professionals get to this scenario and get to the point where they make this decision and don’t really know what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, and I can say that I honestly have everything lined down and in place, and it’s basically doing everything I’m doing now, just not driving a Cup car. I’m going to enjoy Stewart-Haas Racing. I enjoy working with Gene. I’m excited about what he’s doing with the F1 side, and now I might actually get a chance to go to a Formula One race with him here in a couple years. I’m going to get to do a couple things that I haven’t been able to do.”

Team co-owner Haas lauded Stewart for helping turn around Haas’ old team, Haas-CNC Racing, which was rechristened as Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

“The reality of it is that Tony brought the talent and I had the foundation here,” said Haas. “But without Tony we never would have turned into the super team that we are now, winning two championships.”

A look back: Tony Stewart's 10 greatest races remembered

For his career as a driver, Stewart has created a hall-of-fame resume that includes:

— A NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 2002; a Nextel Cup title in ’05; and a Sprint Cup title in ’11.

— At NASCAR’s top level, Stewart has 48 race victories, 182 top fives, 299 top 10s and 15 poles in 583 starts. In each of his first 15 seasons, Stewart won at least one race.

— Stewart’s career winnings in the Cup Series are $121,286,604.

— An Indiana native, Stewart won the Brickyard 400 twice, in 2005 and ’07.

— At Daytona International Speedway, Stewart has won 19 races, second only to the late Dale Earnhardt, who won 34.

— In 2006, Stewart won a championship in the now-defunct IROC Series.

Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart through the years

— In 1997, before coming to NASCAR, Stewart won a title in what is now known as the Verizon IndyCar Series.

— In 1995, Stewart became the first racer in history to win the USAC Triple Crown, taking championships in the sprint car, Midget and Silver Crown series.

In his career, Stewart has been a fan favorite for his blunt and outspoken nature. Growing up, Stewart’s hero was A.J. Foyt, and the two clearly have very similar personalities, which have endeared them to race fans.

Outside the cockpit, Stewart keeps very busy. His Tony Stewart Racing open-wheel teams have won 14 USAC championships and five more in the World of Outlaws. Stewart owns Eldora Speedway, arguably the most historically significant dirt track in America, and holds ownership stakes in two other midwestern tracks.

On the philanthropic front, Stewart has twice donated $1 million to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, and his charitable reach extends far beyond that, as he has quietly helped untold numbers of racers, track operators and friends in the sport. His Tony Stewart Foundation provides “grant funding to well-qualified organizations serving children who are critically ill or physically disabled; animals at-risk or endangered; and drivers injured in the sport of motor racing.”

Tony Stewart will be in cockpit after 2016, just not in NASCAR

For his charitable work and work with racers, Stewart received the National Motorsports Press Association Myers Brothers Award in 2013, as well as the NMPA Humanitarian Award in 2010. Stewart was also the co-recipient of the 2004 USA Weekend Magazine Most Caring Athlete Award.

Despite all his myriad success, Stewart’s career has been adversely affected by two life-changing accidents in the past two years. The first came in August 2013, when Stewart suffered a double compound fracture of the right leg during a horrifying sprint-car accident in Iowa.

Last year during a sprint-car race in Upstate New York, Stewart struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., who had crashed, climbed out of his car and ran toward Stewart, who was lapping under caution. A grand jury cleared Stewart of criminal wrongdoing in the case, but Ward’s family filed a wrongful death civil suit, which is still pending.

Stewart has not won a race as a driver since his Iowa crash, but he won his second Sprint Cup title as a team owner for driver Kevin Harvick last year.

There is no question that Stewart is one of the greatest and most versatile drivers not only of his generation, but in the history of the sport.