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.
Morris said the opportunity to pair with Stewart was "like a dream coming true," but the company could still be involved going forward with both Jamie McMurray at Ganassi, and Austin and Ty Dillon at Richard Childress Racing.
Ganassi president Steve Lauletta said the company is in talks to have Bass Pro remain as a primary sponsor in a smaller role.
"I anticipate you'll see the Bass Pro Shops logo on the hood of our car for a few races next year," Lauletta said.
Ganassi has done exceptionally well with funding the last several years and all of its cars have had full sponsorship the last three seasons. A scaled-back commitment from Bass Pro gives partner Liftmaster a chance to increase its involvement and McDonald's could take on a larger role.
"There's a number of new companies we've been talking to who have shown interest in doing primary races and we haven't had the ability to deliver on those and now we will," Lauletta said. "I believe we'll get a few of those over the goal line."