July 11, 2008

‘Once-in-a-Lifetime’ Deal Lured Stewart

By Nate Ryan

JOLIET, Ill. -- Tony Stewart will be putting his reputation on the line in becoming a Sprint Cup Series owner.

That's apparently all he will be risking.

In announcing a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" Thursday, the two-time champion confirmed he got a 50% stake in Haas CNC Racing for a minimal investment.

"I don't think an offer like this ever has been made in this series to a driver, and I don't know if it'll be offered down the road," said Stewart, who will leave Joe Gibbs Racing next season to become NASCAR's most high-profile driver-owner since an era when Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty raced for teams that bore their names. "Having 50% is huge."

The team, which will be renamed Stewart Haas Racing, was valued at $41 million (13th in Cup) by Forbes magazine last month. Haas general manager Joe Custer said the key to the deal was the business savvy and racing credibility of Stewart, whose empire includes open-wheel teams, tracks and a PR firm.

Stewart already is recruiting crewmembers and sponsors to a team that lacks funding for its two cars. He also will have a large say in choosing a teammate.

"Tony doesn't just put his name on it but his heart in it," Custer said. "What's Tony's heart worth? More than we can put a number on it."

The only comparable deal in Cup might belong to Jeff Gordon, who was made an equity partner in Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet by Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon said Stewart would ensure Haas' long-term stability.

"You're going to see that organization grow tremendously and be more competitive," Gordon said. "When it's a driver like Tony Stewart, it can happen. That's why it was worth the risk." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>