BROOKLYN, Mich. - Tony Stewart plans to build his new NASCAR team into one that can win races and championships sooner than later.
The two-time Sprint Cup champion figures signing Ryan Newman as his teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing is a big step in that direction, though both drivers have a little unfinished business to take care of first.
Stewart is trying to nail down a spot in the Chase for the Championship - and maybe another title - in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing, while Newman hopes to leave longtime employer Penske Racing at the end of this season with another win or two to add to his season-opening victory in the Daytona 500.
Stewart made the much-anticipated signing of Newman official at Michigan International Speedway on Friday, and the soon-to-be teammates sat side-by-side, smiling and talking about the future.
'This is an exciting day,' Stewart said. 'I mean, it's very important to Stewart-Haas Racing, obviously.'
Stewart, leaving the Gibbs team after 10 successful seasons to become part owner of what has been the midpack Haas CNC Racing, added, 'The flood of personnel that have come over and wanted to join the team since we made that announcement has been huge. With the addition of Ryan coming on board now, I think it's even going to make that list even grow larger.'
The new owner-driver knows he's facing a lot of work to make a contender out of his new team, which currently has Scott Riggs 37th in the car-owner points and Tony Raines 43rd.
But Joe Custer, general manager of what is still Haas CNC Racing at this point, said things are changing quickly.
'It's overwhelming in ways,' Custer said. 'You know, to have Tony come on board, obviously, and now Ryan, it's just unbelievable. ... Tony's led the charge. The program's growing. It's exciting to be part of it.'
Newman said he had at least three other serious offers for a new ride in 2009, but went with Stewart-Haas mostly because of its new co-owner.
'It's just a great opportunity,' Newman said. 'I think a lot of Tony from a personal standpoint as well as a driving standpoint, and I've seen his success from an ownership standpoint with the USAC cars and the World of Outlaws cars. I've seen him get the job done in other venues, and I look forward to the opportunity.'
Stewart, who announced in July he was leaving Gibbs for his new team, will use childhood hero A.J. Foyt's No. 14 on his new Chevrolet. That car will be sponsored by Office Depot and Old Spice.
Newman will drive the No. 4. Stewart had hoped to announce multiple sponsorships for Newman's car on Friday, but said that the deals were not yet done.
'Hopefully, in the next couple weeks we'll have something locked down on that side,' Stewart said.
The two drivers have a combined 45 victories and 53 poles in Cup. But most of Newman's success came in his first few years after moving to Cup with the Penske team in 2002. After starting the year by holding off Stewart for the win at Daytona, Newman's 2008 season has been disappointing.
He goes into Sunday's 3M Performance 400 at Michigan International Speedway 15th in the season standings with only seven top-10 finishes. Stewart, though winless, is seventh in the points and coming off two straight runner-up finishes.
'I told Tony, 'The bottom line is, I'm here to have fun. I want to have fun with you.' I know he wants to have fun doing this,' Newman said. 'That's what racing hasn't been a whole lot of for me lately due to the fact we had success in '02, '03, part of '04, and since then it hasn't been as successful. Therefore, some of the fun is gone with that. I look forward to having fun again.'
Still, Newman - despite reports to the contrary - said he didn't make up his mind to take Stewart's offer right away.
'I had a lot of discussions with a lot of other organizations the last little bit,' he said. 'I mean, I couldn't tell you a day that I decided and all that stuff.'
But Stewart said it didn't take him long to decide that Newman was the right guy to team with.
'The thing that impressed me the most about Ryan was that he asked all the right questions,' Stewart said. 'We've still never spoke about a dollar in the contract. The questions he asked me about were how are we going to win races, how are we going to win championships, how are we going to get the right people in place to do the right jobs. ...
'It was first and foremost about how he was going to run and how we were going to ensure that we were going to get him quality cars, equipment, people to surround him to give him that opportunity.'
The pairing teams two of the more outspoken drivers in NASCAR. The often tempestuous Stewart was asked if that would be a problem.
'The competition side will probably be rougher with us going fishing than anything,' Stewart said, smiling. 'The first time he gets me in a boat and gets me out about 50 feet and says, 'All right, we're fishing for paychecks today,' I'm swimming back. If I drown, you guys will know what happened.'