CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Joe Gibbs Racing will release Tony Stewart from his contract at the end of the season, ending a successful decade in which they won two championships and turned the organization into one of NASCAR's best.
Stewart was expected to address employees yesterday, but his release was announced by the team.
"While this moment is bittersweet, we're parting on good terms and we know that each of us has benefited greatly from the other," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said in the statement.
Stewart's departure opens the door for him to buy a NASCAR team, and he called a news conference today at Chicagoland Speedway to discuss his plans. He's expected to announce purchasing a majority ownership in the fledgling Haas-CNC two-car team.
Stewart thanked the Gibbs organization for sticking by him, and teaching him much of what he knows as a businessman.
"I've learned so much from them and have a tremendous amount of respect for what they've built," Stewart said in a statement.
Stewart joined JGR in a developmental role in 1997 while he was still competing in the IndyCar Series. He ran five Nationwide Series races for JGR that year, and also won the Indy Racing League championship. He expanded his Nationwide schedule in 1998 to 22 events in preparation of his move to full-time NASCAR in the Cup Series.
His arrival helped JGR expand to two teams, and Stewart made an immediate impact on the Cup Series. He set a rookie record with three victories in 1999 while winning rookie of the year. It began a 10-year run that's seen Stewart win at least two events a season.
With 32 career victories, Cup championships in 2002 and 2005, and more than $68 million in winnings, it's been one of the most steady and successful partnerships in NASCAR history. JGR wanted Stewart to sign an extension beyond his current contract - which expires at the end of 2009 - and run his entire career in the No. 20. But Stewart, 37, instead tested free agency and was tantalized by the idea of owning a race team.
"While our time together is coming to an end, we know there's still a lot of racing left this season and we plan to make the most of it," Gibbs said. "On behalf of everyone at JGR, we're proud of everything we've accomplished together with Tony and we wish him the best in pursuing his dream of NASCAR team ownership."
Stewart's departure means the end of the longest active driver-crew chief relationship in the garage. Greg Zipadelli helped build the No. 20 team around Stewart at inception, and will likely stay at JGR to help groom 18-year-old protégé Joey Logano.
Although Gibbs officials have not said who will replace Stewart, Logano is expected to fill the seat.