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Stewart should stay put if he wants to win

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó If winning really and truly is the most important thing to Tony Stewart, then heíll be hard pressed to find an acceptable reason to leave Joe Gibbs Racing.
But his decision to test the free-agent market is based on so much more than wins and losses, and thatís why Stewart might very well walk away from a team that has currently established itself as the best in NASCAR.
The two-time NASCAR champion embarked on a whirlwind media tour to explain his decision, joking at one point heíd talked more with reporters at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend than heíd spoken to his own mother over the past two years.
Heís won 32 races and a pair of championships with crew chief Greg Zipadelli by his side and car owner Joe Gibbs staunchly in his corner ó no matter the drama and distractions.
Even Stewart, who was humble and humorous during media availability last weekend, was adamant thereís no compelling reason to leave JGR when his contract expires at the end of 2009.
iItís not that weíre looking to leave ó thereís nothing wrong,î he said. iNothingís broke, nothing needs to be fixed. Everything is really good where weíre at right now.î
But itís not so crazy for Stewart to listen to offers, with many dangling team ownership options.
iI think weíre stupid to not look at whatís being offered,î he said. iIt doesnít cost a dime to listen, so weíre definitely interested in some of the offers that have come across. To the best of my knowledge, Iíve never seen or heard about offers like this. Itís something that I feel like, to be right to ourselves, we have to take the opportunity to at least explore those options and listen to what everybody has to say.î
Fair enough.
Now whether he actually takes one of the offers ó which could make him NASCARís highest-paid driver and give him a guaranteed role in the industry long after he hangs up his helmet ó remains to be seen. But the decision could come down to more than just winning.
Stewart has been smart with his money and has enough tucked away to retire today and still maintain his current lifestyle. But heís also built a small empire, collecting a handful of race tracks and fielding cars for four different drivers at Tony Stewart Racing.
He also has his own public relations firm in True Speed Communications, plus other business interests. Running all that requires money, and by exploring free agency, Stewart is driving up his selling price. No matter where he lands, itís going to cost Gibbs or any other team a ton of cash to sign him ó certainly enough for Stewart to support his diverse business portfolio for a long time coming.
Then comes the ownership aspect. Being in charge appeals to him, and running a race team gives Stewart a challenge away from his own race car.
iI never thought (ownership) would even be an option, but I have to admit ó that is something that has been intriguing about this so far is the possibility,î he said. iI enjoy the challenge of trying to help a part of something that grows, and weíve been a part of that as a driver at Joe Gibbs Racing.
iThe idea that thereís that potential, that we might have that opportunity to be a car owner, is something that is very exciting. Thereís not just one, but thereís a couple offers out there that have offered that. To me, I donít remember anybody being in that situation and to me, itís pretty humbling.î
Taking on that responsibility also would assure Stewart a place in the garage when he decides to stop driving.
Despite his moaning about the NASCAR grind ó itís a taxing 38-race schedule thatís littered with testing dates, sponsor appearances and promotional work ó it has become Stewartís norm over the past decade. He turns 37 next month, and isnít likely to drive at this level another 10 years.
When itís time to get out of the car, there might not be another reason for Stewart to return to the Cup garage. Many of NASCARís longtime stars have moved into the broadcasting booth, and with his brutal honesty and sharp wit, Stewart would be a natural.
But at his core, Stewart is not a talking head.
He cares deeply about racing and loves being involved at every level. He understands cars, isnít afraid to get dirty and is more comfortable in a garage stall than he would be behind a camera. For him, NASCAR ownership is a natural fit.
iTony has networked his entire career,î Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. iHe has a lot of relationships with people that would serve him well should he decide to become a Cup owner. I think he could accomplish his goals however he wants to stack it up.î

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