It was a news story that few in NASCAR expected. Wednesday Stewart-Hass Racing announced the four car team would be switching their manufacturing allegiances in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series from Chevrolet to Ford in 2017. Under a multiyear agreement with Ford the team will raced under the blue oval starting next season and the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing team will race the Ford Fusion with Ford engines prepared by Roush Yates Engines.
SHR has raced with Chevrolet since the team’s founding in 2003. Likewise Stewart has raced with Chevy for over 20 years winning three NASCAR Cup titles and scoring 48 victories in NASCAR’s top tier series. Wednesday shortly after the announcement Stewart and co-owner Gene Haas along with Ford executives met with the media via a teleconference. Stewart was quick to acknowledge the team’s relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, one of NASCAR’s most powerful organizations. Hendrick has been providing engines and chassis to SHR, all with support from Chevrolet.
“First and foremost, I want to recognize our relationship and successes with Chevrolet,” Stewart, who is recovering from injuries suffered in an all-terrain vehicle accident on January 31, said. “They’ve been an awesome partner and we’ve done a lot of special things together, including two championships and a ton of races. We hope to do that again this year.”
“As far as moving forward, this is a constantly evolving sport,” he added. “From our side with the ownership and senior management we try to make decisions that best position us for the future, so we consider our partners, our drivers, and our employees when we think of these strategies. We feel this future relationship with Ford provides us with a bright future, great stability for SHR, and an opportunity to compete at a very top level in the sport. We’re obviously very excited about it.”
Stewart later said that part of the future for SHR involves growth.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to try to be as self-sufficient as we can going into 2017,” Stewart said. “We’re gonna be adding a lot of personnel to our organization, doing our own chassis program, and we’re excited about it. We see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s not just changing OEMs, it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails, to a certain degree, and really get out on our own and I think that’s something everybody here at SHR is really excited about and proud that we’re finally in a position to do this and branch out in this way.”
With a new manufacturer can come growing pains. That could mean a loss in performance next season. Stewart, however, disagrees. He said Wednesday that the team has already been working towards becoming more self-sufficient.
“I don’t honestly think so,” Stewart said. “I feel like our relationship with Hendrick has been changing a little bit over the last year. The technical side of it has changed quite a bit going into this season, so we’ve kind of been working this direction. I think we’re early enough in the season this year that it will give us some time later in the year to really get working on this project. I don’t feel like it’s gonna be a step backwards. We’ve got Greg Zipadelli. We have Rex Stump, who came from Hendrick. I feel like we’re pretty stacked on personnel and quality people that can make sure when we make this move that we’re as prepared as possible. I don’t anticipate any setbacks, to be honest. I fully feel like when we come out of the box next year we’re gonna have our ducks in a row. Sure, there could be growing pains, but I’m pretty confident in our staff and our group here that we’re gonna be as prepared as we can be going into next season.”
The deal, which was very well hidden, has been in the works for some time. Stewart said the genesis of the move was somewhat surprising.
“It’s been a little over six months,” Stewart said. “Honestly, it started out as casual conversation in passing and then the conversations got more serious obviously. 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. 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. That’s really how it all evolved and came to where we are today.”
Stewart said there was a bit of trepidation about the move. At the end of the day though what’s best for the future of Stewart-Haas Racing won out over brand loyalty.
“Obviously, for 20 years I’ve been under the GM banner,” Stewart said. “I was very honest when I spoke to our employees this morning. I never would have dreamed that we were gonna be having this conversation today, but, at the same time, because of this being a very big business – I have 280 employees to look out for, their families, I have Gene’s best interest to look out for when we’re making decisions here. It was a business decision. 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. I wouldn’t be doing my job as a car owner if I didn’t look and explore every opportunity that was out there to make our company better and help give us the best opportunity to win more races and championships in the future.”