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Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford aligning is winning strategy

Both Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford stand to gain, while Chevrolet is left reeling over SHR’s defection.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In a bold proclamation Wednesday, Stewart-Haas Racing's declared its own autonomy, while Ford not only reaffirmed its commitment to winning races and championships, but did so at the expense of its rival.

SHR, co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, is joining Ford Performance beginning with the 2017 season. The move was unexpected, with executives from both sides not dropping nary a hint publicly that the two parties had been talking for the past six months, and is one that will create a ripple effect throughout the garage.

The decision by SHR ends what has been a very beneficial partnership with Hendrick Motorsports that saw the powerhouses form what was essentially an eight-car super team. Except the relationship between Chevrolet's top two teams was always more big brother-little brother, as Hendrick supplied SHR with cars and engines, making the latter dependent on the former.

"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," Stewart said.

Said Haas: "We think it provides the kind of ability and resources that will ultimately bring Stewart-Haas Racing the stability that it really needs."

If it had remained with Chevrolet, its manufacturer since 2004, SHR would be firmly fixed as the No. 2 team with Hendrick clearly first even though SHR had more championships (two) than Hendrick (one) since 2011. But by jumping to Ford, SHR will begin building its own cars and is in position to become the top organization among those sporting blue ovals.

That opportunity was too much for SHR to pass up. And while Stewart may have deep Chevrolet ties, at the end of the day he made a "business decision" based on what's best for SHR's long-term viability -- manufacturer loyalties be dammed.

"As a business owner you can't overlook great opportunities and that's what this was -- it was a great opportunity for our company," Stewart said. "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."

That Ford was able to swipe SHR away from its rival is a coup that will pay instant dividends. The carmaker has not won a manufacturers' championship since 2003 and a Sprint Cup drivers' title since 2004.

In attempt to bolster its roster, Ford lured Team Penske away from Dodge in 2013 only for its then flagship team, Roush Fenway Racing, to descend into mediocrity. Now SHR and Penske gives Ford a very formidable lineup where its two best teams are better than the two best teams in the Chevrolet or Toyota camps.

"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 gonna 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 gonna be as prepared as we can be going into next season."

Now Chevrolet is left scrambling to fill the competitive gap SHR's exodus created.

Coming off a 2015 season where it advanced to the championship round of NASCAR's playoffs, Furniture Row Racing would have been an ideal replacement to slot into SHR's vacant spot. But unhappy with the resources Chevrolet allocated it, FRR joined Toyota over the offseason as its No. 2 team, where it enjoys a close association with Joe Gibbs Racing.

What's left among the Chevrolet teams is Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, neither of which is primed to replicate SHR's success. RCR has not won a Cup race since 2013 and its last championship came in 1994. Ganassi underachieves perennially, having placed a driver in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff just twice.

Chevrolet will continue winning its share of races and championships, as long as it keeps Hendrick, NASCAR's most successful team with a record 11 driver titles, in the fold. But the manufacturer was weakened Wednesday, while Ford strengthened itself and sent a strong message about its willingness to spend money to be competitive.

Currently NASCAR possesses just four elite organizations, and with the SHR acquisition, Ford now claims two.