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Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Updated: July 9, 1:14 PM ET
Stewart granted release from Gibbs, will move to Haas

By Marty Smith
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has been granted a release from the final year of his driving contract with Joe Gibbs Racing after 10 seasons with the team.

"We've had a lot of success with Tony in our 12 years here at Joe Gibbs Racing," J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR, said in a statement. "While this moment is bittersweet, we're parting on good terms and we know that each of us has benefited greatly from the other."

On Thursday at Chicagoland Speedway, Stewart will formally announce a move to Haas/CNC Racing as co-owner and driver, sources close to Stewart said.

Haas/CNC, which currently fields the Nos. 66 and 70 Chevrolets, will be renamed Stewart Haas Racing in 2009.

Sources close to both sides told ESPN.com the deal will make Stewart the highest-paid driver in NASCAR.

Sources also said the Stewart Haas cars will carry different numbers. The No. 14, made famous in IndyCar racing by Stewart's hero, A.J. Foyt, is available, but sources would neither confirm nor deny that as his choice.

Sources said Stewart will own a 50 percent stake in the organization, but his financial investment in attaining it was not disclosed.

Smoking 'Em

Tony Stewart ranks right up there with the best of them. Stewart sits fifth among active drivers with 32 career Sprint Cup wins and also has a pair of series championships to his name.

Most Cup Wins, Active Drivers
Wins Series Titles
Jeff Gordon 81 4
Bill Elliott 44 1
Mark Martin 35 0
Jimmie Johnson 34 2
Tony Stewart 32 2*
*2002, 2005

Per Stewart's agreement with JGR, he will not attempt to hire away any members of his current team. This was a significant key to making the deal happen because the only way that Gibbs felt comfortable with putting Joey Logano in the Cup Series so quickly was to surround him with Greg Zipadelli's established, experienced crew.

As ESPN.com's David Newton initially reported, Office Depot will have a role in sponsoring Stewart's car.

Ryan Newman remains the lead candidate to drive Stewart Haas' second car, sources said, though no deal had yet been finalized Tuesday night.

Stewart Haas will continue to receive chassis and engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Haas/CNC's current drivers, Scott Riggs and Johnny Sauter, are ranked 36th and 44th, respectively, in the owner point standings.

If the team's performance fails to improve its points position during the second half of 2008, Stewart's champion's provisional will guarantee him a slot in the field for the first five races next season, presuming NASCAR doesn't change the rule.

During his tenure at JGR, which began in 1999, Stewart has recorded 32 victories, a pair of Sprint Cup championships and more than $68 million in winnings. Stewart has reinvested his wealth in racing. He owns multiple sprint car teams and a trio of racetracks, including Eldora Speedway.

"If I've learned anything from my time at Joe Gibbs Racing, it's that Joe Gibbs' saying of, 'You win with people,' is incredibly true," Stewart said in a statement. "They always surrounded me with not just good people, but great people, and the results speak for themselves."

Marty Smith is the NASCAR reporter for ESPN. ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee contributed to this report.