- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- The worst-kept secret in NASCAR became official on Wednesday as Joe Gibbs Racing officially announced its move from Chevrolet to Toyota beginning in 2008.
The move ends JGR's 16-year association with General Motors at the end of this season and gives Japan-based Toyota instant legitimacy in NASCAR's top series.
Toyota will inherit Chevrolet's top team outside of Hendrick Motorsports and its list of drivers will grow from a group that has has not been competitive in its inaugural season to two-time Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart and the past two rookie of the year award winners in Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
"If anybody said at the beginning of the season Toyota would be sitting at a press announcement on Sept. 5 announcing Joe Gibbs Racing as a part of the overall team effort we all would have had a hearty laugh," said Jim Aust, the vice president of Toyota Motor Sales and president and CEO of Toyota Racing Development.
"Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the most respected teams in NASCAR, a championship-caliber race team and a first-class organization," Aust said. "We are confident that partnering with the Gibbs team will raise the level of our entire Toyota NASCAR program, and will be beneficial to all of the current teams racing the Toyota Camry."
Terms of the deal, which has not been formally signed, were not announced. But Aust said he hopes the deal runs from "now until there isn't racing anymore."
Lee White, the senior vice president and general manager of TRD, said the agreement will keep Toyota and JGR as partners for decades to come. He referred to JRG as racing royalty.
JGR will join Michael Waltrip Racing, Bill Davis Racing and Team Red Bull under the Toyota banner.
J.D. Gibbs, the president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said JGR and Toyota have the same mindset in terms of performance and technology. And team owner Joe Gibbs said from a technical aspect, teaming with Toyota -- and the 200-plus employees at Toyota Racing Development -- made sense.
"Toyota has a little different model than what GM has," Joe Gibbs said. "For us, there'll be resources there down the road, certainly things we're not going to be able to afford to do [if we stayed at GM].
"For us going forward, we can lean on Toyota hard in some areas."
General Motors officials had feared they would lose a top team when Toyota entered the Nextel Cup series this season -- and had identified JGR as the team most at risk of making the switch.
"Quite frankly, we're a little bit disappointed but we understand the
business side of racing," said Brent Dewar, GM's North America vice president of sales, service and parts who led negotiations to re-sign JGR.
"The costs are going up. [But] this won't affect our performance on the track. We're not about having volume on the track," Dewar said.
Gibbs said JGR wanted to take more of a leadership role in the industry, something that wasn't always easy within the GM key partnership group of Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Richard Childress Racing.
"We have a great relationship with all of our teams," Gibbs said. "What happens when you have that many strong teams, reality is everybody is going to have different ideas."
Dewar said GM couldn't offer a solution around that.
"They wanted to be the lead team," he said. "That's what they kept coming back to, and we don't do it that way. We have a collaborative effort."
Toyota has collectively struggled this season with only seven top 10s. Stewart has 17 and Hamlin has 14. In fact, Stewart has more top fives than Toyota has top 10s.
So why change manufacturers?
"We want to be the team to beat," Gibbs said. "They want to be the manufacturer to beat. That's a combination that works for us, for them, and our sponsors."
Gibbs isn't concerned that Toyota will take his organization backwards before it moves forward.
"We didn't look at it like that," he said. "If we thought we were going to come out of the box slow next year we wouldn't have done it."
Stewart, whose USAC and World of Outlaw teams are supported by GM, shares Gibbs' enthusiasm. He's also not worried about fans that might be offended by his move away from a U.S. manufacturer.
"I'm excited about this," he said. " I feel like the only way you constantly stay ahead of the game is by putting yourselves in position to be leaders and not followers.
"That's why I signed up with Joe Gibbs Racing in the first place and why I'm going to extend my contract."
Stewart and Hamlin are in the process of signing extensions, with Hamlin seeking a deal that will keep him at JGR through 2007.
Stewart, who was so frustrated earlier this year that he talked about walking away from the sport, said he doesn't want to be anywhere but JGR.
"I'm not looking to retire anytime soon," he said.
David Newton covers Nextel Cup racing for ESPN.com. Angelique Chengelis contributed to this report.
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