Tony Stewart showed what type of businessman he is Wednesday. He made a decision with his head and not his heart.
With Ford Motor Company looking to boost its profile in the Sprint Cup Series, it started to court Stewart-Haas Racing in August. Stewart had already won two championships with Chevrolet at SHR and wasn't necessarily looking to leave, but now a driver who predominantly had driven a General Motors car throughout his career has decided to own a bunch of Fords.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday it would switch to Ford next season, a surprise move for sure but not a shocker considering the fact that racing takes money and support, and businessmen such as Stewart and Gene Haas didn't make their money nor grow their companies by turning away the best offer just because they liked somebody or had a long relationship with someone else.
"I have 280 employees to look out for, their families, I have Gene's best interest to look out for when we're making decisions here," Stewart said. "It was a business decision. It's what is best for our company going forward.
"There's a little bit of a tug-of-war with me because of my loyalty, but, at the same time, I didn't have any of those relationships when I came into this sport. ... As a business owner you can't overlook great opportunities and that's what this was."
Dave Pericak, who heads Ford's motorsports programs as director of Ford Performance, swears this won't impact the support of the existing teams. But it's hard to believe Ford would dump more money into its program if anyone other than Team Penske was running well. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports won't have their status or funding cut back immediately, but they have to know the pecking order if cuts are necessary has just changed.
This move comes during a period of Ford expansion in major motorsports series. It started a GT road-racing program so it could compete at Le Mans this year with Chip Ganassi Racing. When Ford announced that deal, it had many speculating that Ganassi might move his NASCAR operation to Ford.
But it appears the Ford spending spree focuses on those who recently contended for championships in their series. Rick Hendrick likely wouldn't change considering his success. Richard Childress probably would have listened, but SHR has outperformed RCR, so why not go for it?
Chevrolet has always supported a lot of cars, but with Hendrick, SHR, RCR and Ganassi, it always seemed that one was ripe for the plucking. Chevrolet had let Furniture Row Racing go to Toyota last year.
"We are disappointed with Stewart-Haas Racing's decision," Chevrolet vice president Jim Campbell said in a statement. "But our focus for 2016 has not changed. We are working with all of the Chevrolet teams, including Stewart-Haas Racing, to win races, make the Chase and vie for driver and manufacturer championships."
That will happen for the most part. Some technology or research long term in development likely won't include SHR at the table. All sides will respect the contract and as competitors, they will do everything they can to win. SHR purchases chassis and leases engines from Hendrick as part of its current alliance that will end after 2016.
"Chevrolet race cars with Hendrick Motorsports engines and chassis have won eight of the last 10 championships, and we couldn't be more proud of the hardworking men and women responsible for that record," Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt said in a statement.
"We will continue to provide SHR's teams with engines and chassis in 2016, and those programs will be supported appropriately."
Stewart indicated the Hendrick-SHR relationship already had started changing.
"We see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing," Stewart said. "It's not just changing [manufacturers], it's a great opportunity for us to kind of get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails, to a certain degree, and really get out on our own and I think that's something everybody here at SHR is really excited about and proud that we're finally in a position to do this and branch out in this way."
It should change. SHR, in its eighth year since Stewart joined the team as a co-owner, should build its own chassis. Fans hate alliances. They want more teams doing their own thing -- as long as their competition against each other lifts them all to higher performance and doesn't increase the difference between the haves and have-nots.
Stewart believes SHR can do more on its own with the Ford support next year. Penske has an alliance with the Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway has an alliance with Front Row Motorsports. That will leave RPM and SHR doing most things on their own except for getting engines from Ford supplier Roush Yates Engines. SHR hired Hendrick chassis guru Rex Stump as its technical director after the 2014 season, and he will play a key role in their building of chassis.
"The sport evolves so fast that there are aspects of it that you realize as time goes on if you're going to truly put yourself in a position to be at the top of the field each week, there are things you have to do on your own," Stewart said.
The main question about this switch is whether there will be any impact on the SHR driver lineup, in particular Kevin Harvick. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion loves SHR and has talked about the difference of coming to work every day with a smile because he drives for SHR.
Harvick has not yet commented on the move -- he might be barred from saying anything since he currently has as Chevrolet contract -- but his loyalty to Stewart and crew chief Rodney Childers most likely runs deeper than a loyalty to a manufacturer.
Manufacturers pay for that loyalty from drivers. They might end up forming a bond, but as Carl Edwards showed a couple of years ago when he moved from Ford to Toyota, the money often talks and decisions get made because of the green.
The SHR decision is no different. Ford has an impressive engineering and race-car simulator for drivers in the Charlotte area. SHR won't lose anything from a performance standpoint and many who have lived in the sport know a business move when they see it.
"I don't anticipate any setbacks, to be honest," Stewart said. "I fully feel like when we come out of the box next year we're going to have our ducks in a row.
"Sure, there could be growing pains, but I'm pretty confident in our staff and our group here that we're going to be as prepared as we can be going into next season."