Tony Stewart still doesn’t know what retirement feels like

Ford Performance's newest scout is no boy scout.

Tony Stewart still doesn’t know what retirement feels like
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing during an iRacing event
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
Team Penske Ford detail
Doug Yates
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart Racing logo
Chase Briscoe
Chase Briscoe and Kyle Larson
Chase Briscoe
Chase Briscoe
Chase Briscoe
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing

Although he stepped out of the No. 14 Cup car at the end of 2016, Tony Stewart has been busier than ever in the new year, juggling his track duties for the Chili Bowl Nationals, tending to his World of Outlaw teams and consulting on the Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions.

And then there’s Stewart-Haas Racing.

As soon as the NASCAR season ended, SHR began its transition from Chevrolet to Ford. If redesigning the current low-downforce package for the Monster Energy Cup Series wasn’t a significant task, along with the manufacturer change came the development of a new chassis department. During SHR’s tenure with Chevy, Hendrick Motorsports provided chassis for the teams.

If we hear about a guy, we’re definitely going to make sure (Ford) knows who that guy is so they can watch them.

Tony Stewart

Doug Yates will provide the Ford power plants, but with the engine switch comes a myriad of new challenges from fuel mileage to cooling issues.

With the new Ford alliance, SHR will also have a pipeline of young talent. But in addition to Stewart’s current responsibilities, Ford Performance boss Dave Pericak is counting on the former NASCAR, IndyCar and USAC Triple Crown champ to scout for the Blue Oval camp.

Tony Stewart the recruiter

“When you look at our longevity in this sport and our dedication to it, we need to make sure that we’re bringing the young talent in and growing them, so we put that program together,” said Pericak, Global Director, Ford Performance. “Tony has a big involvement in grassroots racing and he’ll be a great recruiter for us, so I think when you look at how all of this comes together, it really makes sense in how we’re going to develop our talent and bring them up through the organization.”

Over the last few years, Toyota Racing Development has created a program through Keith Kunz Motorsports in USAC midgets that has served as a NASCAR stepping stone for drivers such as Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu. Stewart’s involvement as a driver, team/track owner and spectator throughout a variety of racing tours — along with his tremendous network of resources — makes him the ideal recruiter for the job.

During a recent appearance at the Ford Performance Center, Stewart said he would entertain running Fords for his open-wheel teams to provide potential candidates with the opportunity to drive at the grassroots level.

“I think that’s going to happen, so we’re looking forward to that support,” Stewart said. “It would be nice to tie it together with the development program. It’s a place where we might be able to help with that as well and help bring in some guys and try them out.

“The good thing is I’ll be back in the short track circle again. I won’t be at all these events, obviously that are run, but I’ll be around it enough that when I hear of some young talent somewhere, and we can give them that direction and say, ‘Hey, this is a guy you might want to keep an eye on.' We’ll do everything we can to try and look for people and guys that we think might fit their model.”

Chase Briscoe's path

The first Ford development driver to come through Pericak’s program is Chase Briscoe, a 22-year-old third-generation Indiana driver who came up through the open-wheel ranks, as Stewart did. Last year, Briscoe won six of 20 races in the ARCA Series before winning the title. He will drive in the Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing in 2017. Pericak sees the duties of Ford development drivers such as Briscoe extending beyond the race track.

“We’re not only going to develop the drivers in NASCAR, but we’re also gonna leverage that driver for our production car development,” Pericak added. “So when you look at the Ford Performance products, Chase Briscoe will be a part of the production team going out and evaluating cars for us, giving us good feedback. And then, while he’s doing that, he’s also learning how to work with engineers and how to give good feedback on cars and what makes a car go and all that, so there’s a really good education that’s going to happen.

"As far as Stewart-Haas, when we bring the drivers into the Ford Development Program, they’re truly signing with Ford Motor Company. As they do that, then that gives us the opportunity as they progress through the levels, whether it be XFINITY or ultimately Cup, to give them the best ride and the best opportunity and figure out where it fits best within the Ford camp. Ultimately, they will go to a Cup level if they’re good enough and they will then sign with one of the teams and they will remove their signing with Ford Motor Company. We’re looking forward to going out and looking for these young drivers.”

Stewart a fan of Briscoe

Stewart is a fan of Briscoe, and vice versa. He raced against Briscoe’s father Kevin in World of Outlaws when he was just starting out. Stewart followed the fellow Hoosier’s development — most recently last month at the Chili Bowl Nationals where Chase advanced to his first A Main before finishing 22nd.

"Kevin’s career was kind of ending when mine was starting,” Stewart said. “Obviously when I learned about Chase because I know Kevin, it was easy to follow him as he came through the ranks. He did an awesome job last year and he is definitely someone we are going to keep an eye on as he develops.”

For Stewart, racing can be a balancing act at times with so many different interests. If there’s a roadblock preventing him from being the ultimate scout, it’s simply Stewart inability to attend more races.

“I think to be more effective, you got to be at the non-wing side, the wing side, you’ve got to be able to go to different parts of the country to really be effective,” Stewart said. “The good thing is, being back in that circle, even being back in winged sprint car races you hear the buzz about non-wing guys and vice versa. So, if we hear about a guy, we’re definitely going to make sure they know who that guy is so they can watch them.”

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