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Stewart To Exit Driver’s Seat After 2016 Cup Season

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 30 2015
Tony Stewart announced he will turn his Cup ride over to Clint Bowyer in 2017. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Tony Stewart announced he will turn his Cup ride over to Clint Bowyer in 2017. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Three-time champion Tony Stewart sounded anything but downhearted in announcing on Wednesday that he will retire from driving Sprint Cup cars following the 2016 season. In fact, during a teleconference with the media,  Stewart was upbeat to the point of sounding like a sprint-logo-08standup comic.

Seriously.

Stewart, 44, joked about everything from still being eligible, as a team co-owner, to being fined and put on probation by NASCAR, to serving as the No. 2 driver for partner Gene Haas’ Formula One team.

But there were also serious moments as the winner of 48 Cup races talked about reaching the end of the line and the process of deciding that he no longer wanted to drive against the best stock car racers in the world.

“Deep down, you know when it’s time to do something different,” Stewart, who will continue driving in non-Cup events after 2016, said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet day. I mean, I’m excited about it but at the same time, I’m sad about it as well. I love what I do with NASCAR, I love what I do as a driver.”

Stewart will spend a large portion of his time after giving up his driver’s seat to Clint Bowyer for the 2017 season, concentrating on his duties as co-owner of the Stewart-Haas Racing organization.

Being able to do that, he said, made his decision not just easier, but possible.

“The great thing is, I think a lot of athletes and professionals get to the point where they make this decision and don’t really know what they are going to do with the rest of their lives,” Stewart said. “I can honestly say I have everything in place and it’s basically doing everything I’m doing now, it’s just not driving a Cup car.”

He said he genuinely looks forward to doing “things I haven’t been able to do” because of the intense Cup schedule. “I might actually get to go to a Formula One race,” Stewart said.

All through his NASCAR days, Stewart remained a short-tracker. He continually flew around the country to participate in sprint car events that meant a lot to him.

It was on a couple of those short tracks that Stewart had some seriously down moments in recent years – severe injuries from a crash caused him to miss a large portion of the 2013 Cup season, and an incident in a sprint car race in which his car struck and killed a young driver took Stewart out of the Cup seat for several races in 2014.

He said Wednesday that none of that had a bearing on his decision.

Stewart, who will have started over 600 Cup races when he dismounts, said he feels he can still compete with the best in the sport. He pointed to an 11th-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Sunday as proof.

What did have a bearing on his decision, he said, was the availability of Bowyer.

“Everything in racing is about timing,” Stewart said. “The opportunity to get somebody like Clint Bowyer, that’s when you know you seize the opportunity.”

Bowyer talked about the honor of replacing Stewart.

“Fit factor couldn’t be any better,” Bowyer said.

Stewart said he considered stepping away at the end of the current season. He decided not to because he felt he owed his fans a farewell year – but not a farewell tour. Stewart said he did not want next year to be a series of farewell events put on by track owners and sponsors.

We he does want of 2016, is on-track success.

“The added year is not just a ride it out year,” Stewart said. “We’re going to gouge their eyes out and we’re going to do everything we can to win races and win another championship.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 30 2015
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