Bring Back Tony Stewart (the Owner)

Posted by Iannucci | 12/14/2006 | 1 comments »
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Forgive me for a moment but I’m about to ask a really stupid question. I read this story about how Tony Stewart is partnering with Chevrolet to sponsor his USAC and World of Outlaws teams, and it correctly points out Stewart’s longstanding relationship with General Motors. Tony’s cars in the IRL were powered by Oldsmobile and since switching to NASCAR he has driven Pontiacs and Chevrolets.

Note the Indiana native made this announcement at the Brickyard. So here is the stupid question: Could Tony Stewart be worth more to the future of the Indy Racing League now than he ever was as a driver in the series?

Maybe my memory has gone fuzzy, but it’s been a long time since I recall reading about any kind of partnership between an engine manufacturer and a driver. Sure, NASCAR has flagship owners like Evernham for Dodge and Roush for Ford, but there is no such marquee driver for the auto makers. I understand that this sponsorship is strictly for Stewart’s non-NASCAR teams and not really an endorsement of him as The Official Driver of Chevrolet, but still the relationship exists and goes beyond simply a Cup series champion and a manufacturer.

And with good reason, since Stewart is one of only a handful of drivers who exist in the upper strata of NASCAR personalities. In fact, he probably brings an exceptional amount of attention to his personal teams just on name alone. Which brings me to the IRL. I would venture to guess that despite all the publicity around Danica!, should Stewart decide to do something freakish like announce he wants to race IndyCars next year he would instantly become the most popular driver in the series. Mrs. Hospenthal has lots of exposure, but her appeal pales in comparison those of drivers like Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhart Jr.

Now, before you think I’m going batty I will fully acknowledge there is ZERO chance of Stewart switching series. That’s not what I am getting at here. However, if a good Hoosier boy like Tony is willing to invest in a World of Outlaw team and a USAC team as an owner then it’s not completely inconceivable to think he might at some point invest in an IndyCar team - which is where I am going with this. He was a previous owner in the dismal Tri-Star racing, but as they say with mutual funds past performance is not indicative of future results.

Surely someone has asked Mr. Smoke recently, but it would be nice to know if Stewart would consider using the leverage of his name and fan base to stake out another presence in the IRL. And even more so, perhaps he could be the kind of guy to talk General Motors into considering returning to the league. If he can talk them into sponsoring his other rides then you know he at least has their ear.

I have nothing against Honda and think they have been spectacular for the series, but it would seem a stretch to consider them delighted with the idea of being the sole engine manufacturer for years to come. Companies get into these leagues to compete against other companies and not just themselves. I’m also all too aware that not only did GM cite a lack of return on their previous IRL investment when they departed in 2004 but also the current financial problems plaguing domestic auto manufactures.

But I can’t stick my head in the sand and wish any current problems away and at some point the IRL will need another type of engine. GM seems a logical possibility.

Maybe I’m reading too much into Roger Penske’s successful campaign to add an IRL event in Detroit, but perhaps the man who owned several Indy 500 winners powered by GM is trying to woo back the engine manufacturer himself. If that’s the case then it is possible a guy like Stewart could help seal the deal.

Of course, my whole premise is predicated on the belief that both Stewart and GM would want to come back to IndyCar racing and neither is very likely at this point in time. Without any real fiscal incentive it would be folly to believe they would. But still, a fan like me can dream.


  1. Anonymous // December 16, 2006 9:27 AM  

    One reason the announcement was significant is that Tony's dirt teams had a high profile sponsorship from Mopar. The switch to Chevy power is big news in the sprint car world