ONE FINAL DRIVE

Tony Stewart made one thing clear when announcing his decision to step away from NASCAR Sprint Cup racing following the 2016 season. He won’t be coasting into retirement.

The Columbus native outlined his goals Wednesday for his final season on the Sprint Cup circuit, and they include winning two races he’s never won — the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500 — and winning a third Brickyard 400. His ultimate goal, though, is to win a fourth Sprint Cup title.

“This is not a ride-it-out year,” Stewart said during a news conference at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina. “We want to win another championship, and we’re going to gouge our eyes out going for it.

“I still want to win races,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way to go out than to go out on top. I can promise you, next year is not a coast-and-collect year.”

Stewart also made clear that he isn’t retiring from racing entirely — just the Sprint Cup series. He said he might race in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and likely will race sprint cars, which have long been a favorite hobby.

“We’re still going to have fun doing it, and I’m still going to have fun driving racecars,” Stewart said. “I think the nice part is, I don’t have a plan. There’s great racing all across the country, and you think, ‘Oh, it would be really cool to try that.'”

One of those things he’d like to try is driving in the NASCAR Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, a track he owns in Ohio.

“I don’t know how we’re going to pull that off because I lose my mind every day there as a track owner,” Stewart said.

On Wednesday, Stewart and team co-owner Gene Haas announced that Clint Bowyer will replace Stewart as a driver beginning in 2017.

“This is a champion’s seat that I’m filling,” Bowyer said. “It’s really easy to see what he’s done on the racetrack, but his brand I’ve grown up with. You look at the powerhouse that he’s helped create, and it’s because of that brand.”

The main priority for Stewart will remain his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. On Tuesday, Stewart and Haas announced Romain Grosjean of France as driver for its new Formula One team.

“I enjoy working with Gene,” Stewart said. “I’m excited about dealing with the F-1 side.

“I’m not leaving the sport I love,” he said. “I’m not walking away from something I’m passionate about. I’m just changing position. There’s still an opportunity to get fined and to get put on probation.”

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.