Tony Stewart to leave Coach Gibbs, Toyota

It’s official. Tony Stewart, without question one of the best all-around racing drivers active today, ended months of speculation by formally announcing that he’ll leave Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season to become a driver/co-owner with Haas CNC Racing, which likely will be renamed Stewart Haas Racing.

The move comes during Gibbs’ first season running Toyota Camrys, a relationship that has brought Stewart flack from some of his loyal, patriotic fans who stopped rooting for the Number 20 Home Depot car once the Chevrolet bowtie was gone. Such fans should rejoice, as Haas currently fields two Sprint Cup Chevy Impalas for Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter. Although Haas’ cars aren’t even in the top-30 in the overall point standings, we expect that Stewart will make the team-his team-competitive for a championship in short order.

Eighteen-year-old prodigy Joey Logano is expected to pilot the Number 20 Home Depot car (which Stewart has driven since 1999) next season, and crew chief Greg Zipadelli is expected to remain atop the pit box.

Said Stewart in an official statement released today:

“I cannot thank Joe and J.D. Gibbs enough for the opportunity they gave me and for the support they’ve given me throughout my entire NASCAR career,” Stewart said. “I’ve learned so much from them and have a tremendous amount of respect for what they’ve built.

“I’ve modeled my USAC and World of Outlaws teams the same way they built their NASCAR team, and I made it a point to find good people to run those programs. If I’ve learned anything from my time at Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s that Joe Gibbs’ saying of, ‘You win with people,’ is incredibly true. They always surrounded me with not just good people, but great people, and the results speak for themselves.

“My crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, is the best example of that. We’ve accomplished so much in our 10 years together on the track, and off the track, he’s been like a big brother to me. It’s a friendship I cherish and expect to continue, even while he stays at Joe Gibbs Racing and I move on.
“I also want to thank The Home Depot. We’ve had a fantastic run with them, and it’s not over yet. We can still win races and compete for a championship and go out on top. For 2008, that’s my number one goal.”

Personally, we’d like to see Tony get back behind the wheel of an Indy car; to chase one of his few unfulfilled racing dreams: an Indianapolis 500 title. Perhaps his new role as boss will allow him enough flexibility to tackle this task, which he hasn’t attempted since 2001. His best finish in five 500s is fifth, recorded in 1997.

Sources: ESPN, Chicago Tribune,