Thursday, April 24, 2008
Gibbs wants team to focus on winning, not Stewart contract rumors
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs isn't sure what two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will do after his contract expires following next season, but he wants to make sure there isn't a loss of focus before then.
Gibbs held a team meeting on Thursday to discuss reports that Stewart has asked out of the final year of his contract and is negotiating with other teams.
SI.com reported that Stewart is in the final stages of a contract that would land him at Haas/CNC Racing next year. ESPN.com reported that Stewart is looking at a potential partnership with Haas that would give him at least 50 percent ownership of the team.
Speaking to reporters after Nationwide Series practice Thursday, Stewart said he has several different offers
to leave JGR, and he is weighing
every option, including ones to own his own NASCAR team.
"We've got multiple offers on the table right now, and there's
a couple in particular that really have caught our interest,"
Stewart was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. "We haven't made a 100 percent decision yet on what we're going
to do, but we're going to look at all the options. And the options
are exciting, all the way around."
Gibbs, a guest on Sirius NASCAR Radio, said he pulled everybody together to explain where things are and to make sure everybody is focused on winning the rest of this season and next.
"We're going to go full bore and hopefully win a bunch of races and championships together," Gibbs told the radio network. "And our hope is when you do that long term this will be the spot he chooses to retire."
Stewart said he has not ruled out staying with JGR, but
when he began negotiating a new contract, other teams approached
him with new opportunities.
"A wise person told me it never cost a dime to listen, so right
now we're all ears," Stewart said to reporters at
Talladega Superspeedway. "Right
now it's just a matter of figuring out what we want to do, and
being smart. We've had a great run at Joe Gibbs Racing. It doesn't
mean it's over. We're just going to look at everything that's out
Gibbs re-emphasized that he plans to hold Stewart through the length of his contract. Stewart's agent, Cary Agajanian, declined to comment but said that he encourages all of his clients to honor the full length of their deals. Stewart's current deal with primary sponsor Home Depot also runs through the end of next season and they plan to honor that.
"His contract is through '09 and that's the only thing I'm going to say right now," Agajanian told ESPN.com. "The more we say the more speculation there is."
Stewart said Thursday he has informed Gibbs officials of his
offers, and that he has not discussed owning a
portion of JGR with owner Joe Gibbs.
"Right now we've not asked to be released out of our
contract," he said. "They know there are other offers on the
table and we've said, 'What if this is the case? And what if this
is presented to us? Is there a possibility we could be released
from our contract early?' But we have not asked to be released from
Gibbs noted he went through a similar situation during the last negotiations with Stewart but ultimately reached a deal.
"And so if we do our job over the next few years and work and win a bunch of races, hopefully this will be the spot he wants to retire," Gibbs said. "But ultimately, long term, five, 10, 15 years down the road, what keeps a team successful are the people we have working here.
"And we have a great group so we just want to be open with those guys, kind of tell them where everything is and then, hopefully, we've got three great race car drivers on the Cup side and hopefully those guys will be here
for a long time."
Stewart was asked by a fan about his contract situation during a recent broadcast of his Sirius radio show. He said negotiations were put on hold late last season to concentrate on the championship chase and that he recently talked to team owner Joe Gibbs to get the wheels back in motion.
"So [I'm] happy where I'm at," he said. "I've still got another year, not only this year but I've got all of next year on my contract again. Things aren't broke there. We're not trying to fix anything. Everything's good."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.