NASCAR: Gibbs says winning matters most to Stewart
By Jenna Fryer
TALLADEGA, Ala. ó Joe Gibbs believes winning is still the most important thing to Tony Stewart, and that makes his team the favorite in the bidding war for the two-time NASCAR champion.
“Every decision I’ve seen him make is to win races,” Gibbs said before Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. “Tony doesn’t have to worry about money. Tony’s got enough money to last the rest of his life. I think it’s been 10 great years and we’re hoping that somewhere in this we wind up staying together.
“That’s simply the way it is.”
Stewart has won 32 Cup races, championships in 2002 and 2005 and more than $67 million in prize money in his nine full seasons driving for Gibbs. And it wasn’t too long ago that all signs pointed to another contract extension that would help Stewart retire with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Then came a flood of offers for Stewart, who has decided to test the free agent market. His contract with JGR runs through 2009, and Gibbs and team president J.D. Gibbs seemed quite adamant Sunday they won’t release from his deal early even if Stewart receives an offer he can’t refuse.
“We’ve had no conversation of leaving before the contract is up,” J.D. Gibbs said. “There’s too much in there from (sponsor) Home Depot’s standpoint, from our team’s standpoint ó there’s too much that we’ve already built and invested in that.
“Our deal is through next year and that’s what we’re looking at. There has been no talk about ending that any earlier.”
So far, it seems most of Stewart’s opportunities involve the chance to own at least a portion of a race team. The Gibbs’ said they don’t have equity in the family business to offer Stewart, but would be more than willing to help him start his own team.
Asked if they would allow Stewart to drive for JGR but own a separate Cup team, J.D. Gibbs said they had not considered that option yet but would be open to discussing it. The late Dale Earnhardt established that model by building Dale Earnhardt Inc. while driving for Richard Childress.
The Gibbs’ also believe that Stewart isn’t upset about the team ending its 16-year relationship with General Motors to drive Toyota’s this season. Stewart has a strong relationship with GM, which heavily supports the many open-wheel teams Stewart owns.
It’s been widely speculated that Stewart wants to return to Chevrolets. One of his offers, to purchase Haas-CNC Racing, would help him do so. But he insists he’s had a good relationship with Toyota in the short time with them.
“One of the first guys we went to in this whole deal about ‘do we change or not’ was Tony. That wasn’t really an issue from a manufacturer’s standpoint,” J.D. Gibbs said. “They do help his sprint car stuff ó Toyota has offered to do the same thing. From a GM standpoint, I know he likes a lot of the guys there.
“At the end of the day, his loyalty is with Joe Gibbs Racing more so than a manufacturer.”
For now, JGR officials said they will continue to work toward winning races and championships and hoping that’s enough to keep Stewart with their organization.
“He had some opportunities before we came along and he just said, ‘Look, I can make a lot of money and I’m not ready and I want to win and do it the right way,”‘ J.D. Gibbs said. “I do think he loves owning his sprint car teams. He loves the track and the other businesses, so he loves a little bit of everything. If you look across the board, he’s not here to run around the back of the pack. He wants to run up front and I think wherever he’s looking at, that will play heavily in his decision.
“Our hope is that we go the next year and a half and crank out some championships and a bunch of wins and it’s kind of like ‘yeah, that is the place to be.’ We have to still do that yet, but if we do that then that really helps our case a lot.”