Commentary

Stewart as a car owner the right move; so is JGR letting him go

Tony Stewart is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to open the next chapter of his NASCAR career. Buying into an established team with majority control, a flock of sponsors willing to sign up and the backing of Chevrolet shows Stewart has the maturity many said for years he lacked, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: July 9, 2008, 2:03 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Tony Stewart is leaving a team capable of winning a championship to co-own one that probably can't win a race.

And guess what? It's the right thing to do.

Stewart is securing his future beyond his years as a driver. He's showing a maturity and wisdom that many people, quite frankly, didn't believe he possessed.

He's is acting like a grown-up, making a decision one would expect of a shrewd CEO in a major corporate boardroom.

For his fans, it seems like an odd move for a man who has some championship-contending years left in him. Stewart is a great driver, but his racing skills aren't enough to make newly named Stewart Haas Racing an immediate winner beginning in 2009.

No one can, and Stewart knows it. But Stewart isn't worried about 2009. He's looking down the road to 2015 and beyond.

This is a rare opportunity to take over an existing Sprint Cup team. The fact that Stewart recognized what an incredible deal it is tells us a lot about what he wants for his life.

Stewart never intended to race in NASCAR. He came to the sport almost kicking and screaming. But Stewart understood that the break-up of his beloved Indy car racing left him no choice if he wanted to make the most of his talents.

Eleven years later, Stewart feels NASCAR is his home. He wants to stay. Buying this team was a chance to do it, maybe his only chance.

It is the deal of a lifetime. He doesn't have to start from scratch, something that would make the task a thousand times more difficult.

The foundation is in place. Stewart already has the big-name sponsors -- reportedly Office Depot, Old Spice and others -- lined up to back him. Chevrolet will support him 100 percent. Ryan Newman could be joining the team as the second driver.

Stewart's job is to hire the right people who can eventually make the organization a contender. And Stewart knows who they are. Some of them will jump at the opportunity to join him because they know he has the knowledge, the financing and the desire to make it work.

That sounds easy, but it takes years to get enough quality individuals in all the right places to make a Cup operation successful.

Stewart will get there, but it will take time. The question is can he get there before his competitive racing days are over?

Stewart turns 38 next season. He probably could race at a high level into his mid-40s. In three or four years, Stewart Haas Racing could become a decent team capable of winning while Stewart is still bumping fenders with the best of them.

The worst-case scenario is Stewart never races for a Cup title again. Historically, driver/owner combinations don't work well in NASCAR. Ask Michael Waltrip or Ricky Rudd or Darrell Waltrip.

If anyone can do it, Stewart can. He's been multitasking successfully for years with his sprint-car teams and his dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.

But failing to win another Cup title wouldn't mean Stewart made a mistake. He has two Cup championships. What he didn't have was a chance to guarantee he can do what he loves for the rest of his life.

This also is great news for NASCAR. The sport is desperate for new team owners. And Stewart is a racer's racer, not an investment firm that takes control of a team or a team owner from another sport who becomes a partner.

Stewart's goal is to become an owner in the model of Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress or Roger Penske, men he respects immensely.

He isn't doing this because he hates Toyota or he's jealous that Kyle Busch is the top dog now at Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart has no animosity toward anyone at JGR. He's simply making the best decision for his future.

Tony Stewart & Joe Gibbs
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTony Stewart, left, and Joe Gibbs have won two titles together. They could still make it three.

Look at it like this. You're an executive at a company. You like your job and you like the people with whom you work. But a competing company comes to you and says, "We'll give you 50 percent ownership and full control to run the business if you join us."

What would you do?

Stewart is buying into a team whose current owner, Gene Haas, is in prison for tax evasion. Obviously, the odd situation has given him a chance to buy in at a bargain basement price.

No one is saying what that price is, but going by the Forbes Magazine list on the worth of top Cup teams, the organization probably is worth in the neighborhood of $70 million.

If Stewart bought in for $30 million to $35 million, he got the deal of the century for an existing Cup team.

And don't shed any tears for JGR. This is the right move for that team, also. Keeping a driver who has his heart set on the next stage of his career never works out.

Gibbs has the hottest driver in NASCAR with Busch and one of the best young racers in Cup in Denny Hamlin. And super phenom Joey Logano is waiting in the wings.

Whether 18-year-old Logano is ready to race Cup next year is impossible to say. He has competed in four Nationwide events (with one victory) and no Cup races.

If JGR officials decide he needs another year before going to Cup, so be it. Quality drivers will line up to jump in the No. 20 Toyota in 2009.

But Stewart has made a decision from his heart. He wants to be involved at the highest level of NASCAR racing for the rest of his life.

That big door of opportunity opened. It was now or never. Stewart wisely walked through to try to change his life and his legacy forever.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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