After months of speculation it has finally been confirmed that Joe Gibbs Racing will make the switch from Pontiac to Chevrolet for 2003 and beyond depriving one GM marque of its two best cars and casting doubts over its continued participation.

Doug Duchardt, NASCAR group manager of GM Racing, and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, announced today that Gibbs' two NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams of Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte would switch from Pontiac to Chevrolet for the 2003 Winston Cup season.

JGR fielded a Chevrolet from its inception in 1992 through the 1996 Winston Cup season with Dale Jarrett and then Bobby Labonte as its drivers. It started running a Pontiac in 1997 with Labonte, and then two Pontiacs in 1999 when Stewart joined the organization as a rookie.

Of the 35 Winston Cup victories and the 26 Winston Cup pole positions earned by JGR in its 10-year history, 29 wins and 20 poles have been won with a Pontiac. The highlight of the Gibbs/Pontiac era was when Labonte lifted the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup title.

"Ever since I ran a stock car with Harry Ranier back in 1996, I've been in a Pontiac," said Stewart. "And even then, when I was just another guy trying to break into NASCAR, Pontiac was very supportive of my career. Obviously, they've been pretty good to me, on the track and off.

"I've always said that these cars all look the same from behind the steering wheel, and I never really got into the debate about manufacturers. But lately, especially this year, I think we've seen areas where the Pontiac could use some help.

"I just want what everybody else has. I don't want to be beat by a rules package. If I'm going to get beat, I want it to be by another driver. And I think being in a larger group, where Joe (Gibbs) can go into the NASCAR hauler and plead our case if it needs pleading, will help, because it won't just be Joe, it'll be Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.).

"We've been so good with the Pontiac for so long that we need to find new ways to make ourselves better. Comparing our cars to a bunch of different teams that have the same stuff we do should make us a better a race team. As a driver, that's all I'm ever looking for."

Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, echoed his driver's comments. "We're just trying to do what's best for the '20' and the '18' cars and our racing on Sunday," he said as the Winston Cup Series readied itself for the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland.

Being involved with a large group of people, being able to share more information, more ideas, more thoughts as to what's going on with Hendrick, DEI and Childress will be easier to do with the same car they all have.

"Pontiac has been a great partner for a number of years. We've been really good. We just felt like it was time for us to make a change and to get into that group of people so that we have something to compare ourselves to.

"There have been a lot of Sundays where we've run fifth, eighth, 10th, and we don't know how much better we could've been. When we're the best Pontiac, which we have been for the last year and a half, two years, along with the '18' car, what do you judge yourself against? How do you know that the car is the main factor, or the motors, or the chassis set-ups, or the driver, or the crew chief, or the pit crew? It's just important to know where you're off and know where you're good. Switching to Chevrolet is more of a gauge for us as a group.

"It's very important that you don't get lax. If we're getting beat by the '24', the '48', and the '8' week-in and week-out with the same equipment they have, we know we need to work a little harder. Then if the car is not the variable, we need to find out what is.

"If it's the car, we need to make it better, because if they're doing it, we can too. We can make our motors better. I've got to do a better job with shocks and springs. Our driver has to do a better job with focusing and hitting his marks each and every lap. Really and truly, that's the biggest reason for the switch. We want to be able to compare ourselves to other cars. We just need to know."