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(The Sports Xchange) - In a move that startled the NASCAR world and signaled a shift in the balance of power among manufacturers in the sport, Stewart-Haas Racing announced on Wednesday a switch from Chevrolet to Ford starting in 2017.
Stewart-Haas has been a Chevrolet team since three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart first partnered with Gene Haas to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.
Since Stewart joined forces with Haas, SHR has purchased its engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports. Stewart won his third Sprint Cup title in a Chevrolet in 2011, and Kevin Harvick followed with a second title for Stewart-Haas in 2014.
But the relationship with Hendrick will end with the 2016 season and SHR will get its power plants from Roush Yates engines, which supplies other Ford teams in the Sprint Cup garage including Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports.
Stewart told reporters during a teleconference on Wednesday that Stewart-Haas will build its own chassis as part of the transition to Ford.
Stewart acknowledged he had mixed emotions.
"Obviously, for 20 years I've been under the GM (General Motors) banner," said Stewart, who left Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR)for Stewart-Haas one year after JGR switched from Chevrolet to Toyota.
"I was very honest when I spoke to our employees this morning. I never would have dreamed that we were going to be having this conversation today."
Stewart said it was strictly a business decision.
"I have 280 employees to look out for, their families. It was a business decision. It's what is best for our company going forward," Stewart said.
"This was a decision that was made because of the passion that I see with Ford and their commitment to Stewart-Haas Racing in the future."
Ford has not claimed a Sprint Cup title since current SHR driver Kurt Busch won the first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with Roush Fenway Racing in 2004, but a reformulated Ford Performance division shows the carmaker's desire to succeed.
"We don't race to race - we race to win, and we race to learn," said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. "I think Stewart-Haas brings with it an enormous amount of expertise."
All told, 11 Ford Fusions started last Sunday's Daytona 500, with last year's race winner, Joey Logano, the highest finisher at sixth. In contrast, there were 20 Chevrolets in the race.
Though Stewart acknowledged there may be some growing pains because of the manufacturer change, he doesn't believe SHR will take a backward step in the short term.
"We're trying to do everything to be as self-sufficient as we can going into 2017," said Stewart, adding that SHR would be adding a lot of personnel in starting their own chassis program. "We see this as a lot of growth for Stewart-Haas Racing."
Editing Larry Fine