Sources: With Haas partnership possible, Stewart has eye on sponsorship

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart is shopping for car sponsorships in anticipation of a potential partnership with Haas CNC Racing, multiple sources told ESPN.com.

Although Stewart has a year left on his contract at Joe Gibbs Racing and JGR officials insist he hasn't asked for a release, the two-time Sprint Cup champion appears prepared to share ownership of Haas Racing's two-car team in 2009.

One source close to the situation said there have been discussions with Ryan Newman as the second driver. Newman has said he will not return to Penske Racing if the performance of that team doesn't improve quickly.

Newman's name definitely would help draw sponsorship to Haas.

"He's talking to every major sponsor that is available out there for this
Haas deal," one source said of Stewart and his representatives. "I don't
know if it's done, but it sounds like it's very close."

Office Depot and Old Spice have emerged as the favorites for at least one of the cars. Office Depot lost its bid to remain with Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing when Aflac was chosen as the primary sponsor of the No. 99.

Sources said there have been discussions with Stewart's representatives that would make Office Depot and Old Spice co-primaries with Office Depot as the lead sponsor. Old Spice already has a relationship with Stewart in the Cup and Nationwide Series.

Stewart would not address his future following Sunday's race at Infineon Raceway.

JGR president J.D. Gibbs insisted Stewart had not closed the door on signing a long-term deal with the company that brought him to Cup racing in 1999 and helped him win titles in 2002 and 2005.

But there is widespread speculation that the reason JGR has rushed Joey Logano into the Nationwide Series is to prepare him to take Stewart's place should Stewart leave.

Stewart admitted two months ago there had been inquiries from other teams. He acknowledged there had been talks with Haas CNC that included ownership.

Joe Custer, who is running Haas CNC while owner Gene Haas serves jail time for tax evasion, would not comment on where things stood.

"Nothing can happen until they let him out of his contract," he said of JGR. "They hold all the cards. Go figure out what they are going to do. When he becomes available we want to talk to him."

Custer said it was not appealing to have Stewart as a co-owner while still driving for JGR next season if the company holds him to his deal.

Both Haas cars, the No. 66 of Scott Riggs and the No. 70 that has been driven by multiple drivers, are outside the top 35 guaranteed a spot in the field each week. Riggs is 36th in owner points and the 70 is 44th.

Haas admitted a partner like Stewart could turn things around for a program that already has support from Hendrick Motorsports.

"It would be extremely helpful to have Tony Stewart or a franchise type player," Custer said. "Those folks have an enormous impact on a team. Would it help us? Yes. It would help us significantly."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.