NASCAR Sprint Cup team Stewart-Haas Racing is to break away from Chevrolet and move into the Ford stable in 2017, the team announced on Wednesday.
SHR has been associated with Chevrolet ever since the team was set-up in 2008. In part, it's commonly believed that a major reason why Tony Stewart opted to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and set up his own team in association with billionaire businessman Gene Haas was in order to reunited with Chevrolet after JGR switched to Toyota.
But now Stewart and Haas have decided to switch to Ford engines from next season, which also means an end to their long-standing technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports who currently provide SHR's chassis as well as building the Chevrolet race engines. SHR now plans to develop its own chassis for use from next season.
Stewart was quick to emphasise that there was no animosity with Chevrolet and that the decision had been made after six months of discussions with the team's best interests for success in the future in mind.
“I am proud of our association with Chevrolet as they helped build our organisation into the team it is today,” explained Stewart. “This new partnership with Ford allows us to strengthen our position in the sport and ensure the long-term stability and success for everyone who is a part of Stewart-Haas Racing.”
"Motorsports is an extremely challenging environment where in order to maintain success you have to constantly innovate," added Haas. "It's true in NASCAR and it's true in business.
"We've enjoyed great success with Chevrolet, but this opportunity with Ford allows us to evolve while continuing to compete at the highest levels of the sport."
"We are thrilled to be able to add a championship-level team like Stewart-Haas Racing to our Ford NASCAR program,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president and Chief Technical Officer for the Ford Motor Company.
"Tony Stewart and Gene Haas have the same passion for winning that we do, and bring a strong stable of drivers and personnel that fit into what we're trying to do in the sport."
“We have said very clearly that we are not in NASCAR just to race, but to win races and championships,” contributed Dave Pericak, who is the global director of Ford Performance.
"We believe the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 will give our program a major boost in terms of being in contention for both drivers' and manufacturers' championships every year.
"We believe that our NASCAR engineering experience and tools match up very well with the expertise and personnel that Stewart-Haas Racing has in house right now, and that we will both benefit from this partnership going forward."
SHR's currently driver line-up includes Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch. Stewart is currently sidelined with a back injury sustained in a pre-season non-racing accident and is being deputised by Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon until he is medically cleared to return to the race seat.
Stewart has already announced that this will be his last season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, and from next year he will be replaced by Clint Bowyer. Bowyer was racing for the Michael Waltrip Racing team which used Toyota engines in 2015 and is now having an interim year in the HScott Motorsport #15 Chevy before taking over from Stewart and switching to the newly Ford-powered SHR squad in 2017, meaning he will have driven for all three NASCAR manufacturers in consecutive seasons.
Last year, Chevrolet had 17 cars among the top 30 Sprint Cup field including SHR, Hendrick, HScott Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Germain Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing and Furniture Row Racing, although Furniture Row has since switched to Toyota for 2016.
Ford's current stable includes Roush Fenway Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Go FAS Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Team Penske. Recently, team owner Chip Ganassi refused to rule out a possible switch from Chevrolet to Ford
in the future, having strengthened its ties with the manufacturer in Le Mans and World Endurance Championship ahead of the 2016 season.