NASCAR & Auto Racing

Stewart's departure not preferred route, Gibbs says

Joe and J.D. Gibbs made clear Saturday allowing driver Tony Stewart to exit his contract a year early to pursue ownership in Haas CNC Racing was not their preferred option.

“First of all, we didn’t let him go. Tony came to us and said he wanted to leave,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “We had a contract through next year and we talked about that and our initial reaction was we’d race through next year (together).

“I think the more we talked it over with ourselves, Tony and Home Depot – Home Depot didn’t have any part of this decision, they didn’t have a choice – we just reached a conclusion that it would probably be best under these set of circumstances to allow Tony to pursue another option.”

Stewart’s contract with JGR went through the 2009 season but he was granted a release earlier this week and plans to drive for the newly renamed Stewart-Haas Racing next season of which he will be 50 percent owner.

“For Tony’s situation, he was not looking at who can provide him the best race car to win, he was looking at other business opportunities, which I understand,” said team president J.D. Gibbs.

“For us, while it was discouraging, we understand where he is. I’m kind of excited to see him in a couple years and say, ‘How’s this ownership thing working out?’ Because it’s a hard deal.”

Asked whether 18-year-old upstart Joey Logano was a candidate for the No. 20 car, Joe Gibbs said he was a “candidate for anything.”

“Obviously, he’s a huge part of our future,” Gibbs said. “But I think right now, we have to make sure we work through all these things we’re going through right now.”

J.D. Gibbs said no decision has been made on whether the organization would add a fourth team in 2009 and hoped to begin discussions to continue the No. 20 team’s longstanding relationship with sponsor Home Depot.

Joe Gibbs said crew chief Greg Zipadelli had already “charted his future” with the organization and would remain in a long-term role, which for time being would be the crew chief of the No. 20.