Sponsor ties make Ty Dillon a candidate to drive for Tony Stewart after Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – While it’s unclear who will be in Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet beyond the Daytona 500, Ty Dillon is a top choice because of youth, talent and cash.

In Bass Pro Shops, Dillon, who will race full time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the third consecutive season, shares a sponsor with Stewart (as well as a manufacturer in Chevrolet).

And while Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t determined the race sponsor lineup for Stewart’s car, indications are that serious consideration for the Bass Pro Shops races would go to Dillon, who had the company on his car in 11 races last season.

“I think Ty is one of the potential (candidates),” Stewart-Haas Racing vice president Brett Frood told NBC Sports in a Friday morning interview at Daytona International Speedway. “We think highly of him, and he’s certainly a young driver that everyone has their eyes on.

“His pedigree has shown to be a really good driver. Bass Pro has the relationship with him. There’s definitely a synergy and certainly a direction we could go.”

Richard Childress Racing’s Dillon, 24, has one win in 78 Xfinity Series starts, taking the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops-sponsored car to victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014.

Frood said it wasn’t certain how many times the No. 14’s main paint scheme will be Bass Pro Shops, which has been a primary sponsor of Stewart since 2013. The three-time series champion’s sponsor lineup still was being determined before he fractured his back in an ATV accident two weeks ago.

Brian Vickers was announced Friday morning as the replacement for Stewart, who is sidelined indefinitely – making it more difficult to determine how to align his return with sponsors such as Bass Pro.

“We’re still working with (Bass Pro), obviously, with Tony not being in the car,” Frood said. “They’ve been a longtime partner of Tony, and (he) is an important part of their brand and what they’ve done over the years.

“We’re speaking to them currently now and how that’s going to work as the year progresses and who they want in the car and how many races.”

While Vickers will drive for the next nine days through Speedweeks, another driver could be in place the following week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where Bass Pro Shops has been a Sprint Cup race title sponsor and also sponsored Stewart last year.

“It’s a fairly fluid situation as you can imagine,” Frood said. “We’ve got a lot of partners and different constituents that are important to us. We want to understand how they see it and really understand that balance between the performance and the business standpoint.

“I don’t think it’ll necessarily be Brian’s last race with us, but there could be multiple drivers in the car. We’ll get there. We’re kind of taking one day at a time right now.”

Frood said SHR and its sponsors still expect to win with the No. 14 “regardless if Tony’s in the car. There’s plenty to balance. Ultimately it’s our partners, our employees and then ultimately performance.”

The team is accustomed to scrambling for replacement drivers with Stewart having missed 18 races over the 2013-14 seasons and Kurt Busch out for three races last year.

“I don’t know if it gets any easier, but I feel like we’re more prepared than we were the first time,” Frood said. “We’ve got a resilient bunch. Guys can circle the wagons and move mountains pretty quickly now.

“It’s not easy not having Tony in the car. There’s nothing easy about it. This is a three-time champion. He’s the heart and soul of this organization with (co-owner) Gene Haas. It’s tough and it’s challenging. That being said, we’ve got a hard-working core here that have been with us for a long time (and) well-prepared. We’re ready to go race regardless of who’s in the car, and we feel good about our prospects going into the year and the season.”