|Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company|
The blue oval brigade will gain a powerful, new ally for the 2017 NASCAR season. On Wednesday morning, Ford Performance (the motorsport and special vehicle arm of Ford Motor Company) announced the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to their brand for next year's Cup Series. Stewart-Haas Racing has signed a multi-year deal with the auto company to field four Ford Fusion stock cars starting with the 2017 Daytona 500.
“We are thrilled to be able to add a championship-level team like Stewart-Haas Racing to our Ford NASCAR program,” said Ford Motor Company's executive vice president and Chief Technical Officer Raj Nair. Stewart-Haas Racing will join Penske Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Wood Brothers Racing and Front Row Motorsports as NASCAR Cup organizations to be gathered under the 2017 Ford line-up. Ford Fusion-bodied Stewart-Haas Racing cars will be supplied by the same Roush Yates Engines V-8 powerplants used by the other Ford-backed NASCAR Cup teams.
The manufacturer change marks a significant 2016 conclusion of a partnership between the team and General Motors as well as the driver line-up. Gene Haas-owned Haas CNC Racing has been aligned with Chevrolet-supported Hendrick Motorsports since its 2002 inception in NASCAR. Despite a 2003 season in the Cup Series where Haas CNC Racing ran a Pontiac Grand Prix, the team has been firmly supportive of the Chevrolet bow tie badge. In 2009, Tony Stewart joined the team after leaving Joe Gibbs Racing who had joined Toyota in the previous year. Acquiring equity in the team, the race organization became Stewart-Haas Racing and grew to four teams.
Along with the team principals, the change to Ford will also provide a change of scenery to the team's high-ranking driver Kevin Harvick. Since his debut in the Cup Series in 2001 assuming the Richard Childress Racing car previously driven by Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick has driven only for Chevrolet. Over the course of his career, Harvick has posted 31 wins, a 2007 Daytona 500 and a 2014 championship in what is now the Sprint Cup Series behind the wheel of Chevrolet stock cars. Harvick provide have history driving with Ford in the truck series for the 1999 season. Confirmed 2017 drive Clint Bowyer (currently driving the #15 with HScott Motorsports) also lacks a solid history with Ford in motorsport heading into the change next season.
|Photo Credit: NASCAR|
While Ford's arrival be a different experience for Harvick and Bowyer, the manufacturer switch will be a homecoming for Kurt Busch of the #41 team. Driving for Jack Roush, Busch's career in Cup started with Ford. In 2004, he drove a Ford Taurus stock car to the series championship under the first-ever Chase format play-off. Current driver of the #10 car Danica Patrick also has a favourable past with Ford in her transition through open wheel racing as a Formula Ford driver.
Tony Stewart, co-owner and retiring driver of the team's #14 car, has spent all but one season in the NASCAR Cup series driving General Motors products. He acknowledges the successful run with Chevrolet saying, "They’ve been an awesome partner and we’ve done a lot of special things together, including two championships and a ton of races. We hope to do that again this year". However, the three-time Cup champion looks forward to the adoption to Ford. "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. We’re obviously very excited about it." said Tony Stewart. While Tony Stewart will retire at the end of 2016 and will not likely ever compete with a Fusion stock car, Ford was at one time involved in an effort that would have seen Stewart make his transition from IndyCar to the Cup Series through the failed Ranier-Walsh Racing. In the 1996 Indy Racing League, Stewart drove a Ford Cosworth powered open wheel machine where he started at the front of that year's Indianapolis 500.
Stewart-Haas Racing will continue to receive engines and cars from Hendrick Motorsports until the end of 2016. "I don’t think Rick looks at this as this is a betrayal of him. It’s more like he treated my first Haas CNC Racing as kind of his own child and he was doing everything he could to make sure we were successful. He was never selfish about it or looking to benefit himself. I think he respects the decision we’ve made because the bottom line is it’s a business decision that, I think, enhances Stewart-Haas Racing in the future." said Gene Haas in the press conference discussing the change to Ford.