AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a bid to strengthen its NASCAR roster, Ford pulled off a surprising coup Wednesday by snagging Stewart-Haas Racing away from Chevrolet.
SHR, which has fielded Chevrolets since its 2002 inception, has won two Cup titles for Chevrolet and is one of the manufacturer’s flagship teams. Co-owner Tony Stewart has driven for General Motors in all but one of his 18 NASCAR seasons, and Kevin Harvick has never raced anything in the Cup Series except Chevrolet. Stewart and Harvick both won championships for SHR driving Chevys.
“This is a constantly evolving sport,” Stewart said. “We try to make decisions that best position us for the future, so we consider our partners, our drivers and our employees when we think of these strategies. We feel this future relationship with Ford provides us with a bright future, great stability for SHR and an opportunity to compete at a very top level in the sport.”
The move begins next season, and Stewart plans to retire from NASCAR at the end of this year. Ford will get Harvick, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch, who gave Ford its last Cup title when he drove for Jack Roush in 2004.
SHR will get its engines from Roush Yates in the new deal. It currently receives engines, chassis and technical support from Hendrick Motorsports, and Rick Hendrick was a huge supporter of founder Gene Haas’ efforts to build a championship NASCAR team.
Hendrick also helped bring Stewart to Haas when Haas wanted to make his team more competitive. The deal brokered by Hendrick brought Stewart in as co-owner, and Stewart immediately transformed the team into a contender.
Chevrolet said in a statement that it was “disappointed” in SHR’s decision, and Hendrick reconfirmed his commitment to the manufacturer.
“Hendrick Motorsports is entering its 33rd NASCAR season carrying the Chevrolet bowtie on our cars. We’ve never raced with anyone else,” said Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “Representing the most successful manufacturer in NASCAR history is something our entire organization takes immense pride in, and we look forward to working together with Chevy toward a historic 40th manufacturers’ championship in 2016.”
Hendrick also noted that the technical partnership with Haas Automation, the company owned by Haas that has provided CNC products and support to Hendrick Motorsports since 1996, will continue after this year.
“We’ve had a strong relationship with Gene and his companies for two decades,” Hendrick said.
Ford’s current lineup includes Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports. When SHR arrives next season, it should immediately move to the top of the pecking order with Penske in terms of Ford priorities.
Stewart said a chance to move out of Hendrick’s shadow was appealing, and the organization will add more employees to take over ownership of its own chassis.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to try to be as self-sufficient as we can going into 2017,” Stewart said. “We’re going to be adding a lot of personnel to our organization, doing our own chassis program, and we’re excited about it. We see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s a great opportunity for us to kind of get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails and really get out on our own, and I think that’s something everybody here at SHR is really excited about and proud that we’re finally in a position to do this and branch out in this way.”