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NASCAR: Stewart’s future unclear

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó Tony Stewart has several different offers to leave Joe Gibbs Racing, and the two-time champion is considering every option ó including ones that could make him the owner of his own NASCAR team.
“We’ve got multiple offers on the table right now, and there’s a couple in particular that really have caught our interest,” Stewart told reporters Thursday after Nationwide Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway.
“We haven’t made a 100-percent decision yet on what we’re going to do, but we’re going to look at all options. And the options are exciting, all the way around.”
Stewart’s deal with JGR runs through 2009, and he said last summer he was interested in signing an extension with the team he’s driven for since 1998. But contract talks moved slowly, with Stewart saying in January he was in no rush to get a deal done.
But a pair of internet reports Wednesday said Stewart was in negotiations to purchase at least a portion of Haas CNC Racing in a deal that would require him to leave JGR.
Stewart said Thursday he has not ruled out staying with JGR, but when he began negotiating a new contract, other teams approached him with new opportunities. The same thing happened back in 2003, when Stewart was able to leverage several deals ó including one from Chip Ganassi ó to secure a more lucrative contract with Gibbs.
“A wise person told me it never cost a dime to listen, so right now we’re all ears,” Stewart said of the latest offers. “Right now it’s just a matter of figuring out what we want to do, and being smart. We’ve had a great run at Joe Gibbs Racing. It doesn’t mean it’s over. We’re just going to look at everything that’s out there.
JGR president J.D. Gibbs indicated Thursday the team intends to hold Stewart to his contract, and Stewart said he’s not asked to be released from it early.
“We’ve got Tony signed through ’08 and ’09, and we want to go full bore and win a bunch of races and championships together,” Gibbs said. “Our hope is that if you do that, then long term this will be the spot he chooses to retire. But the reality is we only control these next couple of years, and we went through this his last contract negotiations when he had a lot of options out there.
“Our hope is we do our job, and he retires here.”
Stewart, winless this season, is tied for sixth in the Sprint Cup standings. In nine full seasons with Gibbs, he has won 32 career Cup races, championships in 2002 and 2005 and more than $67 million in prize money.
Stewart said Thursday he has informed Gibbs officials of his offers, and there were discussions of potentially leaving the team early depending on what deal he agreed to. But he said “a couple offers” included ownership, and the thought of running his own team excited him. Stewart said he has not discussed owning a portion of JGR with owner Joe Gibbs.
“Right now we’ve not asked to be released out of our contract,” he said. “They know there are other offers on the table and we’ve said, ‘What if this is the case? And what if this is presented to us? Is there a possibility we could be released from our contract early?’ But we have not asked to be released from our contract.”
Cary Agajanian, who represents Stewart through the Motorsports Management Int. agency, cited the sensitivity of contract talks in declining to comment.
“His contract is through 2009 with Joe Gibbs Racing,” Agajanian said. “That’s about all we know and all we can say.”
Stewart previously has stated he’d like to retire from NASCAR still driving for JGR, and that he can’t imagine a scenario where he’s not working with crew chief Greg Zipadelli. The two are in their 10th season together, the Cup Series’ longest active driver-crew chief pairing.
There are some who believe Stewart’s desire to test the market is nothing more than a bargaining chip to use with JGR, similar to how he bettered his deal in 2003.
But Stewart has more options now ó he said the offers are mounting and he received a new one Thursday morning ó and there’s even more at stake for the driver: He turns 37 next month and likely is negotiating his final contract.
“The good thing is we have a year left on our contract, we’re not in a rush, there’s nobody putting any pressure on us to make a decision next week,” he said. “Right now we’re going to do our due diligence on all the offers and try to figure out the best option for us.”

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