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Stewart: Toyota pilot and Chevy owner

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         NASCAR NEWS - Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stewart straddles line as Toyota pilot, Chevy owner
By Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - These days, where there is Smoke 
there is Toyota. 

But sometimes Chevrolet remains in the cloudy picture as 
well, when it comes to Tony Stewart. Long ago nicknamed 
"Smoke," Stewart now drives Toyotas for Joe Gibbs Racing 
in the Sprint Cup Series. The Gibbs operation made the 
switch to Toyotas following last season after running 
Chevrolets for the previous six years and for 11 of the 
past 16 (being in Pontiacs for the five-year stretch in 

But Stewart also is the proud owner of Tony Stewart Racing, 
based in Brownsburg, Ind. He opened a 25,200-square-foot 
shop there last year shortly after announcing that he had 
signed a three-year contract with Chevrolet to sponsor 
three USAC teams and in the World of Outlaw Series through 
2009. According to sources, Chevy also has an option to 
extend the deal beyond '09. 

So now Stewart is left at times to promote Toyota as a 
driver on one hand, and Chevy as a car owner on the other. 
No one should be surprised, since Stewart may be the most 
complex personality on the Cup circuit. 

But maybe this arrangement is not quite as complex as it 
appears at first glance. When Stewart competed in the Chili 
Bowl Midget Nationals this past weekend in Tulsa, Okla., 
Toyota Racing Development general manager Lee White was 
spotted in Stewart's pits -- even though Stewart was 
driving a Chevy in that competition and fielded four other 
entries for Tony Stewart Racing. 


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Toyota had only five entries overall in the Chili Bowl, 
which began with 296 combatants trying to race their way 
into a 24-car main event (two of Toyota's five made it, 
finishing second and fourth, respectively). 

"I'll be very honest: our preference would be if Dave 
Darland, Josh Wise, Jason Leffler or one of those guys 
won that event [driving a Toyota]," White said. "But 
if they can't win it, I'm pulling for Tony. I don't 
care if he's driving a Chevrolet, a Kia or a Mahindra 

"If he wins, we win. It's just that simple." 

White's point is that soon, if not already, whenever folks 
see Stewart's face connected with racing, they are going 
to know he drives a Toyota in the Cup Series. That belief 
is key to the manufacturer's entire marketing campaign 
connected to getting JGR to make what at first seemed a 
controversial switch. 

Stewart downplays the fact that he owns and sometimes 
drives Chevys on the open-wheel side, yet works exclusively 
for Toyota now on the Cup side. 

"When we started the USAC programs, we went to Mopar right 
away -- so I was driving a Chevy on the Cup side then and 
all of our open-wheel teams were Mopar," Stewart said. "So 
it's no different than what I've had to do in the past with 
it. It's really not that big a deal." 

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That is the way Stewart appears to be approaching the 
Gibbs switch from Chevys to Toyotas as well. He said that 
especially with the full-time switch this season to the 
Car of Tomorrow for all Cup cars, making a change in 
manufacturers is not as dramatic as it may appear. 

"In the big picture it seems like a huge change because 
we switched manufacturers," Stewart said. "But if we went 
ahead and made this change a year ago, it would have been 
a lot more dramatic than it is this year with the car 
that's the same for everybody. It's just literally a 
decal package and a motor package, for the most part. I 
think it's less of a change this year than it would have 
been in the past." 

Stewart went so far as to assert that he felt little or no 
difference between the Chevrolet he drove in the past and 
the Toyota he drove during the first day and a half of 
single-car-run Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona 
International Speedway. 

"I wouldn't know the difference so far. It's hard to say," 
Stewart said. "I mean, you've got to keep in mind that 
you're on a 2.5-mile track and you're holding it wide 
open. You're not going to really feel it until you get 
around other cars. Any driver that says they can is a 
heck of a lot better driver than me, because I can't 
tell the difference. 

"I couldn't tell the difference when we went to [test in 
Las] Vegas. You're not going to know. You're not talking 
about 20- or 30-horsepower gains to where you're going to 
feel it. You're only talking five- to eight-horsepower 
difference, and you're not going to feel that. Any driver 
who says he can feel that on the racetrack is lying to 

Meanwhile, truth has been the best policy in dealing with 
Stewart, according to White.


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In addition to cheering on Stewart in Chevys at the Chili 
Bowl, White also flew to Tony Stewart Racing headquarters 
a couple of weeks before JGR announced its alignment with 
Toyota this past September. White said he made the trip to 
put Stewart at ease, and did so by "shooting the bull" with 
him as Stewart's 50 or so employees worked on Chevrolet 
open-wheel cars all around them. 

"If Tony had any reservations about racing Toyota in Cup, 
there wouldn't be a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. There is no 
question about that," White said. "I flew into Indiana and 
spent a whole day with Tony in his shop before the announce-
ment to make sure he understood who I was and who we were, 
that he was comfortable with this deal. 

"There is no pressure from us for him to come out and 
promote us. As far as his NASCAR racing, he'll do any-
thing he needs to do." 

As far as Stewart's commitments on the open-wheel side 
to Chevy, White insisted that Toyota will not stand in 
Stewart's way. 

"He has an agreement with Chevrolet. I think it's great 
he's honoring that and they're honoring that," White 
said. "We would not want to get accused of coercing Tony 
to break a contract. 

"We have teams that race against Tony in Midgets and 
Sprints. Our first preference is one of those guys wins 
the races. But if one of those guys can't win the race, 
I'm a Tony Stewart fan. I'm pulling for Tony. Maybe that's 
a personal thing. I'm a racer, Tony's a racer. I have a 
deep appreciation for what he does in all things racing." 

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