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Tony Stewart announces retirement from Sprint Cup racing after 2016 season

By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service The changing of the guard continues at the highest level of NASCAR racing, as three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart announced on Wednesday at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis, North Carolina, th...

Tony Stewart
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) prior to the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

 

The changing of the guard continues at the highest level of NASCAR racing, as three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart announced on Wednesday at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in Kannapolis, North Carolina, that he will retire from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition after the 2016 season.

Clint Bowyer will take Stewart's place in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in 2017. Bowyer is expected to announce this weekend a one-year deal to drive for HScott Motorsports in 2016 as he waits for Stewart to vacate the seat of the No. 14.

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Both Stewart-Haas and HScott purchase their chassis and engines from Hendrick Motorsports.

“This is a moment every driver eventually comes to terms with, and I know this is the right decision for me,” Stewart said. “It was a choice that was 100 percent mine… The reason that we decided to run through the end of next year is 100 percent because of the fans that support us.”

Stewart won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles in 2002, 2005 and 2011, the last coming as the result of one of the most remarkable late-season surges in the history of the sport. Stewart won a record five races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and sealed the championship triumph in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards with a victory in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Subsequent years, however, have not been kind to the three-time champion. In August 2013, he was seriously injured in a sprint car race in Iowa and missed the remainder of the NASCAR season. A year later, in a sprint car race at Canandaigua Speedway in New York, Stewart's car struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr., who had exited his car and advanced toward Stewart with the race under caution.

Stewart missed the following three Cup races, and since that accident, he has posted only one top-five finish in NASCAR's foremost series.

The winner of 48 Sprint Cup races and a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, Stewart will have plenty of business interests to occupy his time. First and foremost, he will continue to work with co-owner Gene Haas to keep Stewart-Haas Racing at the top of the sport.

Stewart also owns and operates Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, which hosts such marquee events as the King's Royal and the Dirt Late Model Dream, as well as providing the venue for the only NASCAR national series dirt-track race, the annual July race for the Camping World Truck Series.

“I love this sport, and I love being a part of it,” said Stewart, who didn’t rule out the possibility of competing occasionally in the NASCAR XFINITY Series or in sprint cars, as his duties as an owner permit.

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“I’m still going to race,” Stewart said. “I’m not retiring from racing - just the Sprint Cup Series… 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.”

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France praised Stewart for his contributions to the sport and noted he will still play a big role in NASCAR away from the steering wheel.

“When I think of Tony Stewart, unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind," said France in a statement. "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 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.” 

Stewart will leave full-time Sprint Cup racing a year after four-time champion Jeff Gordon does the same. Both Stewart and Gordon are 44 years old.

Stewart said, however, that he won’t be embarking on the sort of “retirement tour” that has typified Gordon’s final year.

“I promise you one thing - I won’t be coming to the media center every week to talk about it,” Stewart said. “The track owners can just send me a letter saying, ‘Thank you.’ That’ll be enough.”

Bowyer appeared with Stewart at Wednesday’s press conference and acknowledged he actively pursued the No. 14 ride when he learned it would be available.

“You know that expression where you fall into a pile of cow manure and come up smelling like a rose?” asked Bowyer, who is driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in that organization’s final year of operation. “That’s it for me.” 

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