Jane Miller: Look for Tony Stewart to leave Joe Gibbs Racing

Jane Miller

Tony Stewart fans certainly didn't see this coming.

The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota is looking around and may switch teams after his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing is up after the 2009 season.

Or sooner.

The same Tony Stewart who has said the last few years he intended to retire at JGR, who refused to seriously entertain other offers during his last contract negotiation because he wouldn't be parted from crew chief Greg Zipadelli, is looking at other options.

And among the teams that have contacted him is Haas CNC, which has cars in 28th and 38th in owner points.

What's tempting enough to lure Stewart away from one of the top teams in the sport, from an owner he respects as a role model, from a crew chief he calls a brother?

A chance for an ownership stake in a team.

This is a side of the sport Stewart truly enjoys. He began with ownership of a World of Outlaws team seven years ago and has expanded to USAC Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown teams.

He also owns Eldora Speedway and is part owner of others in Macon and Paducah, Ky.

For Stewart, who says he is a bad spectator, this gives him a chance to be involved in the Cup series after his career as a driver is over - which may be sooner rather than later.

The two-time Cup champion said he has not asked to be let out of his contract, but said he and the team have discussed scenarios in which that might occur.

J.D. Gibbs released a statement that said, in part, "Tony is currently here through 2009, and from a Joe Gibbs Racing standpoint, we hope he drives for us longer than that and retires here.

"Tony is a great partner and a huge asset to Joe Gibbs Racing. Right now, we are focused on winning races and winning the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships under his current contract."

But unless the Gibbs are prepared to offer Stewart something similar to what he's being offered elsewhere, and by several parties, look for Stewart's days in the orange Home Depot No. 20 to be numbered.

Two-wheeled pace lap

2002 Peoria TT champion and 2006 MotoGP champ Nicky Hayden will make a lap on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as part of opening ceremonies for the Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

"This is going to be cool, to do a lap in front of such a huge audience live and on TV on what is arguably the most famous track and race in the whole world," Hayden said.

The guest appearance is to promote the inaugural MotoGP race at IMS on Sept. 14.

Earlier this month, Hayden made a lap on the redesigned road course on a vintage bike that competed at the track in 1909. He later took a few laps on a Honda CBR1000 production motorcycle.

New sponsor

Full Throttle energy drink will replace POWERade as the title sponsor for NHRA Pro Racing in 2009.

POWERade, a Coca-Cola product, signed on to sponsor the series in 2002, replacing R.J. Reynolds/Winston.

Nitro fumes

Galesburg's Rickie Jones has continued his success in qualifying in his first year in NHRA Pro Stock.

Jones qualified 13th for today's finals of the Southern Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta. He has made all three races at which he has attempted to qualify this year.

Considering that 11 racers missed the PS field this weekend, that's no small feat.

- Things aren't as rosy for husband-and-wife Tommy Johnson Jr. and Melanie Troxel in the Funny Car camp. For the second time this season, both of them missed the field.

The two have both qualified for only one race this year, and that was Las Vegas. Troxel has qualified for just two races - the season-opener at Pomona, which Johnson missed, and Vegas. Johnson qualified at Houston and Phoenix.

John Force did make the field this week after missing Las Vegas. It is

his 500th NHRA race.

- The name chosen for the new dragstrip in Concord, N.C., is zMAX


- Don't forget - the next event for the NHRA is the O'Reilly Midwest Nationals next weekend at Gateway International Raceway.

Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. Write her at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3207 or e-mail