JOLIET, Ill. --- Haas CNC Racing made Tony Stewart a deal he couldn't refuse, giving him 50- percent interest of the team basically for free.
Stewart, who was granted a release from his contract at Joe Gibbs Racing after this season so he can work with the newly-formed Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, was essentially given 50 percent of the new team in exchange for what he brings to the struggling organization -- an ability to win races and attract sponsors.
"This is a once-of-a-lifetime opportunity. I don't think an offer like this has ever been made to a driver in this series,'' Stewart said Thursday. "This allows me to race competitively in NASCAR's top division while carving out a place in this sport long after my driving career is over.
"There's a whole new sense of appreciation and satisfaction that comes with success when you're both a driver and an owner. I know I could've continued to do that at Joe Gibbs Racing, but to attempt to do those things as a car owner is something that really appeals to me."
Haas CNC currently has two cars with drivers Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter, and both have struggled. Stewart will get engines and engineering help from Hendrick Motorsports next year.
"Stewart-Haas Racing will have everything it needs to be successful," Stewart said. "The equipment is there to win races next year and in the years to come."
While Stewart and Haas CNC general manager Joe Custer refused to offer details -- other than Stewart's ante -- the value of other teams with similar results is at least $50 million.
"While Haas Automation has enjoyed great success in the marketplace, our racing operation has yet to achieve the same kind of success," Custer said. "Tony Stewart is a racer with a keen business sense, and we're proud and excited to have him as a key partner of our team."
Jeff Gordon, who was given a minority share of Jimmie Johnson's team in 2002 by Rick Hendrick, said Stewart's share might have been free, but it's far from cheap.
"There's no way Tony could just do it," Gordon said. "It's a smart decision for both sides. They've got to get sponsorship to bring in money to get good people, and the best way to do that is with a big driver. For Tony, there are not too many teams out there that would offer that kind of deal. He certainly wouldn't get that at Joe Gibbs Racing. It's a win-win for both sides. It may be for free, but you take on half the responsibility to pay the bills."
Stewart's current crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, won't make the move.
"All good things must come to an end, and this is the time. My obligation is with Joe Gibbs Racing," Zipadelli said. "They gave me a chance 10 years ago. I feel like I owe them an awful lot. For me to leave and pursue something different, it's just not me."
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.