Tony Stewart and Home Depot are under contract with Joe Gibbs Racing through 2009. It is unlikely that Stewart would leave before the 2010 season, but he could start his own team before that time.
Does Stewart Have To Leave JGR?
Many fans have read into this situation that Tony Stewart will be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to start his own team and drive for himself. This is the route that Michael Waltrip, Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Alan Kulwicki and others have attempted. Very, very few of them were ever successful.
This move makes the most sense if Stewart's primary driving force is to drive a Chevy again. Stewart has been noticeably quiet about his new Toyota Camry ride in 2008. Would Stewart give up a Championship-capable ride just to return to the Bowtie Brigade?
Being the owner/driver of a modern NASCAR team seems to be a recipe for failure. Ask Darrell Waltrip how well it worked for him.
Jumping Ship to Focus on Owning
Tony Stewart said that he was exploring multiple options for his future. Among them was an opportunity at HAAS/CNC. Apparently they have made an offer that includes some ownership provisions.
Honestly, HAAS/CNC is not in the same league as Joe Gibbs Racing. This would be a big drop in equipment quality for Stewart. It is hard to imagine him taking that leap. This move only makes sense if Stewart is giving up on the drivers' seat and is ready to fade away into the pack and focus on owning.
Precedent Exists To Own and Drive Different Teams
There is one other option that many seem to have forgotten. Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove for Richard Childress while he was the car owner at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Why can't Tony Stewart start his own NASCAR Sprint Cup team and still drive for Joe Gibbs?
There is a potential conflict of interest. Imagine a driver charging to the checkered flag door-to-door battling with a car that he owns. He might actually make more money if he backs off and lets the other driver win!
This is unlikely to ever be a problem given the internal desire that drivers have to win. Can you really imagine Tony Stewart lifting?
This move makes the most sense if Stewart wants to lay the groundwork for his future retirement but still wants to battle for Championships while he is at the top of his game.
One thing for certain is that Tony Stewart will do whatever he feels is best for him. As one of NASCAR's biggest, and most outspoken, stars Tony Stewart's future will be big NASCAR news until he finally announces his plans.