The once tight alliance between Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports is splintering with the news SHR is changing manufacturers from Chevrolet to Ford for the 2017 season.
SHR's decision to defect has created an awkward scenario where the four-car team remains aligned with Hendrick, which supplies SHR with engines, cars and technical support, for the current season yet preparations will soon begin in earnest for its conversion to Ford.
During the introductory press conference Wednesday, Tony Stewart, SHR co-owner, said Rick Hendrick was informed last month that SHR was likely to leave Chevrolet and join the Ford camp. Ever since, discussions between SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli and Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt have been ongoing on how the two organizations would approach the 2016 season.
"Obviously, the relationship has changed,'' Duchardt told SiriusXM Radio on Thursday. "It's not business as usual. For sure, I feel like that Greg and I are on the same page on how we are going to work together this year and move forward. We're going to work as professionally as we can to get through 2016. We both have the same goals and that's win races and championships and this year is going to be for Chevrolet."
Stewart acknowledged the changing dynamic, with Hendrick still obligated to provide equipment and share information with a team that is going to a rival manufacturer at the end of the season.
"Obviously, it will change in some respects for 2016 with this news," Stewart said. "But we believe we'll still have a really good working relationship for another year this year."
Hendrick never felt a sense of resentment and a high level of respect still exists between the two teams, Duchardt told SiriusXM Radio. He was informed by SHR executives their decision had nothing to do with performance or lack thereof, only what made the most business sense.
Duchardt pledged that SHR will still receive the same caliber of equipment it has previously, engines and chassis good enough to propel SHR to championships in 2011 with Stewart and 2014 with Kevin Harvick. SHR also fields cars for Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, with Clint Bowyer set to replace the retiring Stewart next season.
"I don't want any of the Stewart-Haas fans to think that we're not going to do what we can to have successful and competitive engines and chassis for those teams,'' Duchardt said. "We're going to absolutely make sure that is the case."
The link between SHR and Hendrick goes back to 2002 when Gene Haas formed Haas CNC Racing with the aid of Rick Hendrick. And when Stewart decided to leave Toyota-backed Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008, it was Hendrick who played an instrumental role in partnering Stewart together with Haas, who gifted Stewart a stake in the team.
Since that union, SHR has emerged as a dominant team having won 30 races and a pair of Sprint Cup championships. But the opportunity to be independent, and not beholden to Hendrick for cars and parts, prompted SHR to accept Ford's overtures.
"I don't think Rick looks at this as this is a betrayal of him," Haas said. "I think he respects the decision we've made because the bottom line is it's a business decision that, I think, enhances Stewart-Haas Racing in the future. It's just an opportunity we couldn't pass up.
"I know Rick and I actually think he probably would be quite happy about it saying, ‘It's good to see that you guys are gonna be a long-term player in NASCAR racing.' This is just the path we're taking to get there."