Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart has begun discussion with Joe Gibbs Racing officials about his future with the company, ESPN.com has learned. And that future, sources say, is questionable.
Multiple sources close to the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity said Stewart told Gibbs officials that he'd like to be released from the final year of his current driving contract, which expires at the conclusion of the 2009 season.
"He definitely has some options," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. "To me it's no different than any of the the options he's had before. The reality is he's racing here through 2009. There's no ifs, ands or buts about that one. Our stance is he's racing for us through 2009."
Stewart's publicist, Mike Arning, said "Tony's contract is through the 2009 season. When that is up he'll have a lot of options for 2010 and beyond. But in terms of what he's going to do, or might do, for now and in between, as far as JGR is concerned he's their driver for 2009."
Sources said Stewart is intrigued by the thought of team ownership. One potential scenario mentioned was a partnership with Haas/CNC Racing, under which Stewart would own as much as a 50 percent stake in the race team that currently fields the Nos. 66 and 70 Chevrolets. Under that scenario he would drive one of those two machines.
Haas GM Joe Custer said he has spoken with several people about the future status of his team, including Stewart's group. He was adamant that his team has reached no deal with Stewart, but would "by all means be interested in discussing a partnership with a driver of his caliber."
Such a move would reunite Stewart with Chevrolet, which sources said was of the utmost importance to the driver, given that he's driven for General Motors for most of his career, and that GM sponsors Stewart's open wheel sprint car program.
Gibbs switched to Toyotas from Chevrolets in 2008.
Haas/CNC Racing currently fields cars built and powered by Hendrick Motorsports, the organization that has won four Cup championships in the past 10 years, including the past two.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.