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NASCAR’s odd couple splitting



Once again the garage rumor mill turns out to be right on the money as Tony Stewart officially announced at Chicago that he would be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of this season to become part owner and driver of Stewart Haas Racing. The move will bring to an end a 10-year run that saw Stewart and Gibbs join together to win a couple of Cup titles and 32 races along with finishing in the top10 every year but one.

The feeling here is that Gibbs will not skip a beat with his threeteam organization. Stewart is not the only star in the Gibbs stable as he is joined by the hottest driver in NASCAR at the moment in Kyle Busch along with Denny Hamlin, who has made the Chase in both of his first two full-time seasons in the series.

Of course, Gibbs now must find a replacement for Stewart but he probably will not have to go outside of his organization for that driver. Joe Logano is only 18 years old but the Gibbs organization has had him tagged as its next great driver for the last couple of years. He only has four starts in the Nationwide Series but one of them was a win last month at Kentucky with his last Nationwide start ending up in a runner-up finish in Milwaukee on June 21.

Logano is yet to take the green flag for a Cup race but he has logged hundreds of laps behind the wheel of a Cup car as Gibbs’s test driver. Those test laps actually began to accumulate before he ever drove in the Nationwide Series as he was testing in a Cup car before he was actually old enough to drive in that series.

Any first-year driver will experience the ups and downs within the sport and when you are only 18 maybe the best thing you could have going for you is an experienced crew chief. Luckily for Gibbs and maybe Logano, Stewart’s longtime crew chief Greg Zippadelli will still be with the team. Stewart is one of the most gifted drivers in the sport but he would be the first to tell you that much of his success is owed to Zippadelli.

“Zippy” has the ability to get a young driver like Logano through the tough learning curve that every first year driver has to endure in this sport. Gibbs’s entire three-team operation will also have that ability, as it will be one of the youngest organizations competing in the sport. Busch is only 23 and Hamlin is the “old” man of the group at 27.

While it looks like Gibbs will have the ability and resources to continue with its winning ways, the new road for Stewart may be a little tougher. Hass CNC racing started in the sport on Sept. 30, 2002 and since then its best finish has been a fifth-place finish in the 2007 fall Richmond race by Johnny Sauter. The organization now fields two fulltime teams in the series, but both teams are outside of the top 35 forcing them to have to qualify on speed each week.

The move to a struggling team was made easier by the fact that Stewart was given 50 percent ownership without having to put up any money. Stewart is no stranger to owning race teams as his Tony Stewart Racing supplies cars for USAC Midget and Sprint car divisions and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. He knows success as an owner as his organization has recorded eight titles.

Stewart’s move was also made easier by the fact that Haas uses Hendrick engines and chassis along with Hendrick technical support. That is only one part of the equation that it takes to win with the rest being made up of sponsorship dollars that will allow Stewart-Haas to bring in the kind of people that it takes to win.

Stewart’s past success in the sport is being counted on by Haas to attract the kind of big money sponsorships that it will take to make all of this come together. There has been no official announcement of Stewart’s sponsors for 2009 but rumors have Old Spice and Office Depot all set to have their names on his quarter panels and hood.

There is still one more piece to the Stewart-Haas puzzle to be put into place. Tony’s teammate will be named sometime soon and all signs point to Ryan Newman. This would give the organization a very strong lineup and one that should come out of the box ready to win.

Race Preview – Event: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. Date: July 27, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN. Radio: IMS. Defending champion: Tony Stewart.

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