NASCAR's Tony Stewart will retire from Cup racing after '16

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Tony Stewart to Retire After 2016 Season


KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (AP) -- Saying it was time for a change, three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart announced Wednesday that he will retire from Sprint Cup racing following the 2016 season.

Smiling and appearing at ease at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop in North Carolina, Stewart said the decision was "100 percent" his choice.

"There wasn't any pressure from anybody," Stewart said. "If anything, it was the opposite. I know people were trying to talk me out of it. It's a scenario where everybody in their career makes the decision that it's time for a change."

Stewart, who deeply loves dirt track racing, isn't getting out of the car for good, though.

"I am still going to race," he said. "I am not retiring from racing, just the Sprint Cup Series."

Stewart, who said a year ago he wasn't sure if he'd ever run a sprint car race again, indicated Wednesday a return to his roots is in his future.

"Maybe. Probably," he said when asked if he'll get back in a sprint car.

His planned departure is not a surprise. Stewart will be 45 next season, hasn't won a race in over two years and has been privately working on finding a successor for the No. 14 Chevrolet all year.

Clint Bowyer, released from his contract with Michael Waltrip Racing because the team is folding at the end of the season, will replace Stewart in the No. 14 in 2017. Bowyer has been looking for a one-year deal for next season as a stopgap while Stewart runs his 18th and final Cup season. SHR also fields cars for reigning series champion Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.

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NASCAR's Tony Stewart will retire from Cup racing after '16
Sprint Cup drivers Tony Stewart, right, and Ryan Newman, left, share a laugh prior to qualifying at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Friday, March 27, 2015. Rain delayed the practice and qualifying for Sunday's STP 500 Sprint Cup race. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 28: Tony Stewart drives the #14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart gets into his car prior to qualifying at the Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Friday, March 27, 2015. Rain delayed the practice and qualifying for Sunday's STP 500 Sprint Cup race. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
FONTANA, CA - MARCH 20: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/ Mobil 1 Chevrolet, climbs into his car prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 20, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart high-fives race fans before the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship series auto race, Sunday, Nov. 16,2014 in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Danica Patrick, followed by Tony Stewart, greets fans before the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship series auto race, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/David Graham)
Tony Stewart prepares for the Ford EcoBoost 400 auto race practice, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Topper)
Tony Stewart prepares for the Ford EcoBoost 400 auto race practice, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Topper)
Tony Stewart takes turn four during practice session for the NASCAR auto race Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead, Fla., Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Topper)
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart gets in his car before practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/David Graham)
Danica Patrick followed by Tony Stewart high-five race fans before the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship series auto race, Sunday, Nov. 16,2014 in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart waves to the crowd before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in Hampton, Ga. Stewart was racing for the first time since being involved in a fatal dirt track accident in upstate New York. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Tony Stewart (14) drives into the first turn at the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in Hampton, Ga. Stewart was racing for the first time since his car struck and killed a fellow driver during a sprint race in New York three weeks ago. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) drives his damaged car to the garage after hitting the wall during a NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in Hampton, Ga.. (AP Photo/Joe Sebo)
Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) looks over the damage to his car after he hit the wall during a NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in Hampton, Ga.. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
HAMPTON, GA - AUGUST 31: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, walks through the garage area with NASCAR security after an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
HAMPTON, GA - AUGUST 31: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, walks through the garage area with NASCAR security after an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
HAMPTON, GA - AUGUST 31: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
HAMPTON, GA - AUGUST 31: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, pulls into his garage stall after being involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart (14) gets a tire during an NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in Hampton, Ga. Stewart was racing for the first time since being involved in a fatal dirt track incident in N.Y. (AP Photo/Bryn Anderson)
A fan shows his support for Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart before the start of an NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, in Hampton, Ga. Stewart was racing for the first time since being involved in a fatal dirt track incident in upstate New York. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
Video: NASCAR's Tony Stewart Hits And Kills Kevin Ward Jr After He Got Out Of Car To Complain http://t.co/2JiTbHd7Aj http://t.co/d4JAV8Mbiq
Sheriff says #TonyStewart investigation is not criminal. Stewart hits, kills driver on track. http://t.co/gGjTJkrmTK http://t.co/p8HovWh2ax
Driver Tony Stewart walks in the pit area after a practice session for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Quicken Loans 400 auto race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Friday, June 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Pic from witness of Sheriff's Deputies at Stewart's sprint car #TonyStewart http://t.co/Dfd8mp27x7
WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08: Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2014 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Driver Tony Stewart talks with his crew after practice for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Saturday, July 12, 2014 in Loudon, NH (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Tony Stewart prepares to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway Monday, April 7, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Ralph Lauer)
TURIN, NY - AUGUST 14: General view of a shirt for Kevin Ward Jr. is shown outside of South Lewis Senior High School following the funeral service on August 14, 2014 in Turin, New York. Ward was killed August 9, when he exited his car during a dirt track race and was struck by a car driven by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
TURIN, NY - AUGUST 14: Mourners let balloons go following the funeral service for Kevin Ward Jr. at South Lewis Senior High School on August 14, 2014 in Turin, New York. Ward was killed August 9, when he exited his car during a dirt track race and was struck by a car driven by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
TURIN, NY - AUGUST 14: Pallbearers help to carry the casket of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. at South Lewis Senior High School on August 14, 2014 in Turin, New York. Ward was killed August 9, when he exited his car during a dirt track race and was struck by a car driven by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
TURIN, NY - AUGUST 14: Pallbearers help to carry the casket of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. at South Lewis Senior High School on August 14, 2014 in Turin, New York. Ward was killed August 9, when he exited his car during a dirt track race and was struck by a car driven by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
TURIN, NY - AUGUST 14: a man walks past a hearse during the funeral service for sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. on August 14, 2014 in Turin, New York. Ward was killed August 9, when he exited his car during a dirt track race and was struck by a car driven by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Canandaigua Motorsports Park is seen Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Canandaigua, N.Y. On Saturday night, Tony Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at the track in upstate New York. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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The last three years have been trying for Stewart. He struck and killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a 2014 race in New York and he missed the final third of the 2013 season with a broken leg suffered in a sprint car crash. His passion for NASCAR racing has also waned in the last several seasons, in part because of an evolving rules package that he has struggled with. He is currently 25th in the points standings and failed to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the third consecutive year.

Stewart told AP in June that his confidence was shot and he was struggling to find any enjoyment in being in the race car.

"I think deep down, you know when it's time to do something different," Stewart said Wednesday.

Stewart said the fatal incident with Ward and his comeback from injuries played no role in his decision.

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway and a close friend of Stewart's, said the driver had discussed retirement with him "over the last six or eight years."

"I think he always viewed Cup racing as a job that helped him fulfill his passion for racing on dirt tracks, running world-famous Eldora Speedway or owning the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car Series," Gossage said. "I don't know anybody that loves racing more. He's a sure-fire, first ballot shoo-in for the NASCAR Hall of Fame."

Kevin Harvick, who was lured to Stewart-Haas Racing by Stewart and won his first Cup title last season, admitted he's still coming to terms with Stewart's decision.

"As the world learns about Tony retiring today I have to admit I've known about this for a while and really struggled to put my arms around what I think about it," Harvick posted on social media. "I've seen Tony as my driver, my boss and my friend. But in the end I want to see him smile and be happy in his life. Tony has done a great deal for not only my family, but the sport that we all love."

Stewart, who moved from IndyCar to NASCAR and got his break in 1999 with Joe Gibbs Racing, is the second star in two years to call it quits. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon will retire at the end of this season.

Stewart has 48 Cup victories and is a lock for NASCAR's Hall of Fame. He's one of the most proficient drivers in racing, winning in every kind of series, from sprint cars to a dominant stretch in NASCAR where he reeled off at least one win in 15 straight seasons.

But the last two seasons have been filled with heartache and hardship on and off the track for Stewart. While no one would ever count out Stewart from winning one more race, he's no longer a regular threat to find victory lane. He last won a Cup race on June 2, 2013, at Dover International Speedway.

Stewart said he considered retiring at the end of this season, but stuck around for the fans and to try and win his first Daytona 500.

"The great thing is, I'm not going anywhere," Stewart said. "NASCAR's probably going to be the most disappointed of everybody today because they aren't getting rid of me. They have to deal with me as an owner. There's still an opportunity to get fined. There's still an opportunity to get on probation, just like always."

Bowyer is an eight-time race winner in the Sprint Cup Series and finished second in the 2012 championship standings. Bowyer said he would likely announce his team for 2016 later this week.

"Whether it's racing him on Sunday or watching my dirt late model teams race at his famed Eldora Speedway, Tony and I share the same passion for racing," Bowyer said. "That makes this opportunity a perfect fit for me. I appreciate everything he's done for me and the sport of auto racing. These are big shoes to fill, but, boy, am I ever looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a champion's ride, and have Tony there with me along the way."

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