TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Tony Stewart insisted he wasn't trying to poach a sponsor when he approached Bass Pro Shops about an opportunity to join his race team.
The three-time NASCAR champion has a long relationship with Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris, and knew the contract with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing expired at the end of this season. In need of funding, Stewart had a conversation that led to an 18-race sponsorship deal that was announced Friday.
"I didn't go to Johnny trying to steal a sponsor from somebody," Stewart said. "We just let it be known to him that we had an opportunity available on our side, and if he ever decided he was wanting to make a change, we wanted him to know we were available."
The popular outdoor retailer is replacing Office Depot, which told Stewart during the summer it was not returning to his program. That left a gaping hole on the No. 14 Chevrolet at a time when Stewart was also looking for primary sponsorship for Ryan Newman's car.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced earlier this week that Quicken Loans was upping its commitment to Newman to 18 races next season. That just about fills the No. 39 car, but Stewart still has work to do on his: Mobile 1 has an 11-race commitment, but nine races are still unsold.