MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Stewart-Haas Racing will use Ford power for the first time next season, but team co-owner Tony Stewart is no stranger to the blue oval.
While Stewart has split his NASCAR Sprint Cup career between Pontiac, Toyota and longtime partner Chevrolet, Stewart’s won in a Ford-powered car before. He captured USAC’s Turkey Night Grand Prix on Nov. 23, 2000 at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in a Steve Lewis-owned Ford midget car.
In a Wednesday press conference discussing SHR’s move from Chevrolet to Ford, SPEED SPORT asked Stewart his thoughts on regaining ties to a manufacturer with which many figured Stewart would never unite.
“I kind of forgot that in the past with Steve Lewis Racing in the USAC Midget Series I ran a Ford for one year,” Stewart said. “They were strong, I can promise you that.
“I won a lot of races with the Chevy-based motor, but the Ford was really strong when we ran the USAC car for Lewis.”
Strong enough to propel Stewart to the lead on lap 75 of the 100-lap Turkey Night Grand Prix. The man Stewart passed for the victory: Kasey Kahne, who now drives for Hendrick Motorsports – the team with whom SHR has partnered since 2009.
There aren’t any hard feelings from Hendrick’s or Stewart’s camps from the switch. Stewart said he reached out to Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick early in the year to let him know about a possible change. Aside from Hendrick, considered the most powerful and successful team in NASCAR, SHR is the only Chevrolet team to have won a Sprint Cup points race since 2013.
“We weren’t 100 percent decided yet, but we were 99.9 percent there (early in the year),” Stewart said. “We wanted to be fair to Rick. Like (SHR co-owner) Gene (Haas) said, Rick has been a great partner. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to partner up with Gene if it wasn’t for Rick, so we obviously have a great deal of respect for him. That was something that was important to us to make sure that we reached out to him and let him know about this before he heard it from anyone else.
“That was something that came in January, and I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact on the partnership we have this year. The dynamic of it was kind of already changing before all this happened anyway, so I don’t think where we’re at with the partnership we have with them this year is going to be impacted at all.”
Moving to Ford gives Stewart’s team the ability to develop everything about its car except for Roush Yates Engines. And since Stewart is retiring at the end of the season, he’s unlikely to be behind the wheel of an SHR Ford.
Still, what he’s seen from Ford in the past year – a performance uptick that saw Ford driver Joey Logano win more races than anyone – was enough to convince Stewart and the rest of SHR’s brass.
“I think more than anything once we got in conversations with them it was the resources that we learned we would have access to is what really intrigued us,” Stewart said. “I think that was the one thing that really caught our attention was how dedicated they are and the amount of resources that they’re willing to put forth to help us all accomplish the goal that both sides want to accomplish in all this. That was very impressive.
“The technology layer is huge. I feel like they’re giving us something that we really need right now that’s going to help us down the road. That was really a huge factor in making this decision.”