CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Joe Gibbs Racing will release Tony Stewart from his contract at the end of the season, ending an incredibly successful decade in which they won two championships and turned the organization into one of NASCAR's best.
Stewart was expected to address JGR employees Wednesday, but his release, which J.D. Gibbs called 'bittersweet,' was announced by the team.
'While this moment is bittersweet, we're parting on good terms and we know that each of us has benefited greatly from the other,' Gibbs said in the statement.
Stewart's departure opens the door for him to buy a NASCAR team, and he called a news conference scheduled for today at Chicagoland Speedway to discuss his future plans. He's expected to announce he's purchased majority ownership in the fledgling Haas-CNC two-car team.
Stewart joined JGR in a developmental role in 1997 while he was still competing in the IndyCar Series. He ran five Nationwide Series races for JGR that year, and also won the IRL championship. He expanded his Nationwide schedule in 1998 to 22 events in preparation of his move to full-time NASCAR in the Cup Series.
His arrival helped JGR expand to two teams, and Stewart was an immediate impact on the Cup Series. He set a rookie record with three victories in 1999 while winning rookie of the year honors. It began a 10-year run that's seen Stewart win at least two events a season.
With 32 career victories, Cup championships in 2002 and 2005 and more than $68 million in winnings, it's been one of the most steady and successful partnerships in NASCAR history. JGR wanted Stewart to sign an extension beyond his current contract - which expires at the end of 2009 - and run his entire career in the No. 20.
But the 37-year-old Stewart instead tested free agency and was tantalized by the idea of owning his own race team. By becoming an owner, Stewart was intrigued in securing a spot in NASCAR long after he finished driving.
'While our time together is coming to an end, we know there's still a lot of racing left this season and we plan to make the most of it,' Gibbs said. 'On behalf of everyone at JGR, we're proud of everything we've accomplished together with Tony and we wish him the best in pursuing his dream of NASCAR team ownership.'