HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – When Tony Stewart signed a five-year extension back in 2003, many believed it would be his final NASCAR contract.
After all, the two-time champion threatens at least once a season to walk away from NASCAR when his existing deal ends.
Turns out, Stewart isn’t going anywhere. He said Wednesday he’s working on an extension to stay at Joe Gibbs Racing past 2009. The team also is trying to add three years to Denny Hamlin’s contract that expires in 2010.
“I’m not looking to retire anytime soon,” the 36-year-old Stewart said. “If I was doing that, I wouldn’t look at signing a new contract.”
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Stewart has never seemed to embrace NASCAR the way he does the smaller racing series he still frequents. He’s griped about the politics of the industry, the demands on his time and the non-racing related requirements that fill his schedule.
It often appeared Stewart simply was using the grinding 38-weekend Nextel Cup schedule to pay for his extracurricular racing. Besides the non-NASCAR races he competes in, Stewart owns Eldora Speedway in Ohio and is part-owner in two other race tracks.
But he’s one of NASCAR’s biggest stars and arguably its most talented driver. In nine seasons, he’s won 32 races, scored 185 top-10 finishes and won championships in 2002 and 2005.
He’s only finished outside the top seven in points once – last season, when he failed to qualify for the Chase for the championship and finished a career-worst 11th in the standings. But Stewart won a series-high three times during that 10-race stretch he wasn’t eligible for the title.
Now, Stewart said he wants to win races well into his 40s.
“I’ve been racing since I was 8 years old. The day it’s not fun, I’ll quit,” he said. “As long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’m staying around.”
JGR president J.D. Gibbs said the team was never sure how long Stewart would race in NASCAR.
“We’ve always told him, the ball is in his court,” Gibbs said. “He wants to keep the ball rolling – it’s up to him on how long – and we’re thrilled he wants to keep racing with us.”
Stewart’s intent was announced the same day JGR said it will switch to Toyota next season and end its 16-year relationship with General Motors.
Stewart won both his championships driving for GM – a Pontiac in 2002 and a Chevrolet in 2005 – and the manufacturer also supports his sprint car teams.
He said he hopes he can continue to work with GM in the lower ranks once JGR switches to Toyota next season.