In a stunning move severing its long ties to General Motors, Stewart-Haas Racing will become a Ford-backed team beginning in 2017, the team and manufacturer announced on Wednesday.
The elite NASCAR organization fields a star-studded lineup consisting of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart -- who is retiring at the end of the year and will be replaced by Clint Bowyer. SHR has been one of Chevrolet's marquee teams, winning two championships within the past five years.
Since its 2003 inception as Haas CNC Racing, the team has campaigned General Motors cars every season. For the past six years they have had a strong relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, which has supplied SHR with engines, chassis and technical data. The organization changed its name when Stewart joined the team as co-owner/driver in 2009.
But in 2017, SHR will begin building its own cars in-house, with Ford supplying the engines. The two parties began talking six months ago, with Stewart describing the conversations as "casual" initially before becoming more serious. The idea of being independent and not reliant on another organization was the impetus for SHR making the switch.
"We're trying to do everything we can to try to be as self-sufficient as we can going into 2017," Stewart said. "We're gonna be adding a lot of personnel to our organization, doing our own chassis program, and we're excited about it. We see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"It's a great opportunity for us to kind of get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails and really get out on our own. 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."
For Stewart and Harvick, being associated with Ford will be a notable change. Stewart, a three-time Cup Series champion, has driven a General Motors car in all but one of his 18 seasons. Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, has driven a Chevrolet Cup car for the entirety of his career (2001-present).
Stewart admitted leaving Chevrolet was difficult, but for the betterment of SHR signing with Ford was something Stewart felt SHR needed to do for long-term viability.
"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.
"This is what we felt like was best, and as a business owner you can't overlook great opportunities. And that's what this was, it was a great opportunity for our company. I wouldn't be doing my job as a car owner if I didn't look and explore every opportunity that was out there to make our company better, and help give us the best opportunity to win more races and championships in the future."
With Team Penske already under its umbrella, SHR gives Ford two championship-caliber teams and a roster capable of snapping Chevrolet's streak of having won every manufacturers championship since 2003. A Ford driver has not captured a premier division title since 2004.
Ford executives stated it will not diminish or eliminate its support for teams already aligned with the carmaker. By adding SHR, the manufacturer is increasing its investment to NASCAR. Other Ford-supported teams include: Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing and Front Row Motorsports.
"We definitely are very serious about winning championships," Ford Performance global director Dave Pericak said. "I think we have demonstrated that passion to do so and there is no doubt that the Stewart-Haas team comes with that capability.
"We're in this to win it and we're in this to get back in that winner's circle, so everyone will get the support that they've been getting, and Stewart-Haas will be in addition to that."