Revealing the choice “was 100 percent mine,” three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart announced he will retire from the Sprint Cup Series after the 2016 season.
Stewart said he wasn’t retiring from racing but wouldn’t compete again in the Sprint Cup Series after next year. He said he’d be open to racing in any series such as sprint cars or sports cars but said he hadn’t made any plans (though he did rule out racing again in the Indianapolis 500). He also wants to race a truck at Eldora Speedway (which he owns) and didn’t rule out races in NASCAR’s Xfinity or modified series.
“There wasn’t any pressure,” Stewart said Wednesday about the retirement decision during a news conference at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters in Kannapolis, N.C. “If anything, it was the opposite. I had more people trying to talk me out of it than anything.”
Stewart will turn his No. 14 Chevrolet over to Clint Bowyer beginning with the 2017 season after a career highlighted by 48 victories in NASCAR’s premier series, 15 since becoming a co-owner of SHR in 2009.
Stewart said he planned to remain around the NASCAR team in the future, with the only difference being he wouldn’t be driving a Cup car for the first time since 1999.
“It’s nothing you plan,” he said. “Deep down, you know when it’s time to do something different. It’s a bittersweet day.”
Stewart, 44, hasn’t won since June 2, 2013 at Dover International Speedway. Since that victory, he broke his right leg in an August 2013 sprint car crash and missed the final 15 races of that NASCAR season. Last year, he missed three races after his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. in an Aug. 9 race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.
Stewart, who is ranked 25th in this season’s points standings, said the events had “zero percent” impact on his decision.
“This is strictly what I want to do,” he said. “My leg feels fine. The tragedy of (Ward’s death), nothing’s going to change that. It happened. It’s not going to direct the rest of my life.”
Was he retiring from Cup on his terms?
“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s nothing to this other than I feel it was the right time. To get someone like Clint Bowyer, that’s when you seize the opportunity. He’s the perfect driver to fill in for us.”