By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
In a move that startled the NASCAR world and signaled a paradigm shift in the balance of power among manufacturers in the sport, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday a switch from Chevrolet to Ford starting in 2017.
Stewart-Haas has been a Chevrolet team since three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart first partnered with Gene Haas to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. Before that, Haas ran General Motors products -- Chevrolets and Pontiacs -- under the Haas CNC Racing banner, dating to 2002.
Since Stewart's arrival, SHR has purchased its engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports. Stewart won his third Sprint Cup title in a Chevrolet in 2011, and Kevin Harvick followed with a second title for Stewart-Haas in 2014.
But the relationship with Hendrick will end with the close of the 2016 season, and SHR will get its power plants from Roush Yates engines, which supplies other Ford teams in the Sprint Cup garage, including Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.
Stewart told reporters during a teleconference on Wednesday that Stewart-Haas will build its own chassis as part of the transition to Ford.
But Stewart also acknowledged he had mixed emotions about the switch.
"Obviously, for 20 years I've been under the GM banner," said Stewart, who left Joe Gibbs Racing for Stewart-Haas one year after JGR switched from Chevrolet to Toyota. "I was very honest when I spoke to our employees this morning. I never would have dreamed that we were going to be having this conversation today.
"But at the same time, because of this being a very big business ... I have 280 employees to look out for, their families. I have Gene's best interests to look out for when we're making decisions here. And it was a business decision. It's what is best for our company going forward.
"I would be lying if I didn't say I've been on Twitter since 9 o'clock, reading what everybody's been writing. I respect everybody's views on it, but this was a decision that was made because of the passion that I see with Ford and their commitment to Stewart-Haas Racing in the future."
Stewart said the deal originated approximately six months ago through "casual conversations in passing" that soon became more serious, as the prospective partners gauged the level of each other's interest. Stewart informed HMS owner Rick Hendrick before the season started that Stewart-Haas was all but certain to make a change next year.
Ford hasn't claimed a Sprint Cup title since current SHR driver Kurt Busch won the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004, but a reformulated Ford Performance division is indicative of the carmaker's desire to end that drought.
"We don't race to race -- we race to win, and we race to learn," said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. "I think Stewart-Haas brings with it just an enormous amount of expertise, and the way they approach racing is a very technical way.
"All of that is going to blend very well with what we've been doing within Ford Performance and how we are approaching now our racing program here at Ford."
All told, 11 Ford Fusions started last Sunday's Daytona 500, with last year's race winner, Joey Logano, the highest finisher at sixth. In contrast, there were 20 Chevrolets in the race. Accordingly, when Stewart-Haas, a championship-caliber team, moves to Ford in 2017, there will be a de facto shift in the balance of power in the Sprint Cup garage.
Though Stewart acknowledged there may be some growing pains because of the manufacturer change, he doesn't believe SHR will take a backward step in the short term because of the switch.
"We're trying to do everything 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, do our own chassis program. We're excited about it, and we see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"It's not just changing OEMs. It's a great opportunity for us to get out of the shadows and, to some degree, I guess, get off the coattails and really get out on our own. I think that's something that 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."