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Betty Jane France named Myers Brothers Award Recipient
RELATED: Full schedule for Champion's Week DARLINGTON, S.C. (Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016) – Betty Jane France, whose philanthropic endeavors away from the race track rivaled those of the well-known family business of NASCAR, has been chosen as the 2016 recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association's prestigious Myers Brothers Award. France, who passed away Aug. 29, 2016, is the mother of NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France and International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy. She was the widow of former NASCAR Chairman and CEO William C. France. While auto racing has been the cornerstone of the family profession, Betty Jane France's reach far exceeded the boundaries of the track. Kind and compassionate, France was the guiding force behind the formation of the NASCAR Foundation, the charitable arm of the sanctioning body that seeks to improve the lives of children most in need. She served as chairwoman of the Foundation upon its inception more than a decade ago and was later named chairwoman emeritus. In 2011, the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, presented by Nationwide, was established in her honor. Each year, the award recognizes outstanding charitable and volunteer efforts of NASCAR fans. Active in her Daytona Beach community as well as abroad, France also helped establish the Speediatrics children's care unit at Halifax Health in Daytona Beach as well as Homestead Hospital in Homestead, Fla. The Myers Brothers Award is named in honor of former NASCAR competitors Billy and Bobby Myers. Determined by a vote of the NMPA membership, it recognizes individuals and/or groups who have provided outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing. It has been presented annually since 1958. Myers Brothers Award Winners 2016, Betty Jane France; 2015, Darlington Raceway ; 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr .; 2013, Tony Stewart ; 2012, Jeff Gordon ; 2011, Drs. Joseph & Rose Mattioli; 2010, Jim Hunter; 2009, Barney Hall; 2008, T. Taylor Warren; 2007, Bill France Jr.; 2006, Benny Parsons; 2005, Rusty Wallace; 2004, Kyle and Patti Petty; 2003, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 2002, Mike Helton; 2001, Dale Earnhardt; 2000, Kyle Petty; 1999, Junie Donlavey; 1998, T. Wayne Robertson; 1997, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1996, Rick Hendrick; 1995, TNN: The Nashville Network; 1994, Brickyard 400/ Indianapolis Motor Speedway ; 1993, Goody's Manufacturing Co.; 1992, Richard and Lynda Petty; 1991, Harry Gant ; 1990. Dick Beaty; 1989, Bill France Jr.; 1988 Richmond International Raceway ; 1987, ESPN; 1986, Hayride 500; 1985, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1984, Charlotte Motor Speedway ; 1983, CBS-TV; 1982, MRN; 1981, Junior Johnson; 1980, STP & Champion Spark Plug Co.; 1979, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; 1978, Busch Beer; 1977, First National City Travelers Checks; 1976, Junior Johnson; 1975, Bill France Sr.; 1974, H. Clay Earles; 1973, Wood Brothers; 1972, Winston Cigarettes; 1971, Richard Petty; 1970, Richard Howard; 1969, David Pearson; 1968, Wood Brothers; 1967, Richard Petty; 1966, Norris Friel; 1965, Ned Jarrett; 1964, Richard Petty; 1963, Marvin Panch; 1962, Hank Schoolfield; 1961, Ned Jarrett; 1960, Russ Catlin; 1959, Lee Petty; 1958, Bob Colvin. Here is the complete list of Thursday’s award winners from the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon : · NMPA Myers Brothers Award: Betty Jane France · Buddy Shuman Award: Jack Roush · NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award: Comcast XFINITY · Chevrolet Cross Flags Award: Tony Stewart · American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award: Kevin Harvick · Coors Light Pole Award: Carl Edwards · Duralast Brakes "Brake in the Race" Award: Kyle Busch · Goodyear NASCAR Series Champion Award: Jimmie Johnson · Ingersoll Rand Power Move Award: Dave Rogers, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Crew Chief · MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder of the Year Award: Scott Vester, Hendrick Engines No. 4 team · Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award: Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team · Mobil 1 Driver of the Year Award: Kyle Busch · MOOG Steering & Suspension Problem Solver of the Year Award: Alan Gustafson, crew chief No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team · Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap Award: Kyle Busch · Sunoco Diamond Performance Award: Jimmie Johnson · Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award: Chase Elliott · Champion Sponsor Award: Lowe's · Champion Crew Chief Award: Chad Knaus · Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Presented by Nationwide: Andy Hoffman &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Day 1: Gant leads pack on 20th charity ride
Our daily diary starts with a chat with the popular former Cup driver
Where have you gone, Mr. September?
Just months before, the seemingly timeless Nolan Ryan had twirled his seventh no-hitter at the age of 44. Tennis star Jimmy Connors was days into an unlikely, age-defying run into the U.S. Open semifinals at 39. In 1991, the sports world's well had been primed for feats that defied both logic and the limits of advancing years. The NASCAR world was no different. The time was right for 51-year-old Harry Gant . By the 1991 season, the veteran driver already possessed a handful of nicknames to choose from: -- "Hard-Luck Harry ," a label he finally shook by collecting his first premier-series win (1982, Martinsville) after finishing second a heart-wrenching 10 times. -- "The Bandit," a nod to Gant's longtime sponsorship from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco's Skoal brand. -- "Handsome Harry ," his best-known alias, which owed to the matinee-idol good looks that followed him into grandfatherhood. But 25 years ago this month, Harold Phil Gant earned another affectionate handle for his most notable accomplishment in stock-car racing's big leagues -- a history-making, four-race win streak at age 51 that transformed him into "Mr. September." Gant's string of dominance began at Darlington Raceway , the historic South Carolina track that hosts its second NASCAR throwback festival this weekend, culminating with Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.) Gant , now 76, plans to be in attendance for pre-race appearances. Other drivers with Hall of Fame credentials have amassed wins in fours since the dawn of NASCAR's modern era in 1971, but other factors beyond his age make Gant's performance a singular achievement. Gant also won twice in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series during that magical September, leaving him a streak of six straight national series triumphs. He won all four premier-series races with the same car -- a Leo Jackson-owned No. 33 Oldsmobile Cutlass -- and same engine at all four tracks. "We'll probably run it until we wreck it," Gant said back then. The car was involved in two crashes during the four-race romp, but never lost its winning edge. The phrase "better with age" was Harry Gant defined. He won eight Winston Cup races after the age of 50, a run that made his Skoal Bandit banner a frequent flyer just underneath the American flag at the Alexander County courthouse in his hometown of Taylorsville, North Carolina. Gant still calls the town of nearly 2,100 residents home. Though he hung up his driving gloves after the 1994 season, he's far from the formal interpretation of retirement. From sunup to sundown, Gant can be found either raising cattle and raking pastureland on his 300-acre farm or mowing neighboring solar farms with his grandson. Taking time out to recall the details of his extraordinary record? When his daughter, 55-year-old Debbie Pollard, answers the phone in Gant's nondescript Taylorsville office, she says he's simply far too busy. Maybe when the grass stops growing later into October, she says, pointing out a small window to chat this weekend in Darlington. "That might be a good place to catch him," Pollard says. Twenty-five years ago today at Darlington, no one could. In the three magical weeks that followed, Gant's No. 33 was just as uncatchable. In the spirit of celebrating NASCAR's throwback history this weekend, NASCAR.com takes a race-by-race look at Gant's stunning surge to four wins in a row -- and the chance for a fifth that barely slipped away.
1987 Winston: Where Are They Now?
RELATED: Elliott will 'never forget' Earnhardt move The starting grid for the 1987 Winston All-Star Race looked a lot like an exhibit befitting the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This was The All-Star Race for the ages. Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliott all competed. Greats such as Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant , Ricky Rudd, Buddy Baker, and Benny Parsons were on the 20-driver starting grid, too. A young Davey Allison and a new Daytona 500 winner Geoffrey Bodine lined up alongside these iconic names. The fast and famed Tim Richmond was on the grid, too, in what was his final season of NASCAR competition. And don't forget about Kyle Petty, Bobby Hillin Jr. and Greg Sacks. The only driver on that famed All-Star lineup still NASCAR racing today is Morgan Shepherd, who drove a car fielded by drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein -- and his seventh-place finish that day in his first All-Star Race remains his best showing. That starting lineup was a true convergence of NASCAR's best -- sentimental favorites, crusty veterans, future Hall of Famers and young stars out to make their big names. It had personality. It had top-line credentials. In only its third running, the 1987 race showed exactly the pizzazz that would help forge the All-Star Race into the can't-miss annual event that will be on full display Saturday in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway . For all its historical allure, amazingly in that famed 1987 race only four drivers even led a lap -- the winner Earnhardt (10), the day's dominant driver Elliott (121), Bodine (3) and Kyle Petty (1). The great seven-time Cup champ Richard Petty crashed with the late superstar Neil Bonnett on Lap 66. As dominant and successful as Petty was, it's easy to forget he never won an All-Star Race. Among the most memorable aspects of this race will undoubtedly be the day's winner Earnhardt's "Pass in the Grass" of Elliott. It wasn't actually a pass at all, but Earnhardt maneuvering to hold onto his late race lead over Elliott in the day's most dominant car. It was the first of three All-Star wins for Earnhardt. And the gritty, hard-nosed final laps racing launched this -- then still young -- event into a bona fide can't-miss rite of spring. The above photo itself has become quite a piece of NASCAR lore. When this group of 20 drivers came together for this indelible image, these are the numbers they would leave behind: 812 premier series victories, 26 premier series championships, 11 All-Star Race wins ... and one urban legend.
Ron Bouchard passes away at age 67
RELATED: Bouchard's standout Modified career Ron Bouchard, winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 and the premier series' rookie of the year that same season, passed away Thursday. He was 67. A family friend and close pal of my fathers Ron Bouchard passed away today. My thoughts and prayers go to his family. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) December 10, 2015 NASCAR made a statement on Thursday regarding the news, "Ron Bouchard's passion for racing was evident from his very early years in NASCAR. Competition fueled Ron, whether racing modifieds at short tracks across the Northeast or winning rookie of the year honors in NASCAR's premier series. He loved this sport, and made an indelible mark on it, one that won’t soon be forgotten. "NASCAR extends its condolences to the friends and family of Ron Bouchard, a true racer." A native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Bouchard pulled off one of NASCAR's most stunning victories when he shot from third to first on the final lap at Talladega (then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway), passing Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte to score his lone premier series victory. The win came in his 11th career start. He was driving the Jack Beebe-owned Race Hill Farm No. 47 Buick, with crew chief Bob Johnson. Bouchard had taken over the ride earlier in the season following the departure of driver Harry Gant . Bouchard became the 13th different winner in the 13-year history of the summer race at the 2.66-mile track. "Coming off the fourth turn … I was behind Waltrip and Terry when Terry decided to pass Darrell on the outside," Bouchard told reporters following his Talladega victory. "When he moved up, Darrell moved up to get in front of him. When I saw that, I just shot down to the inside … and moved up fast." A standout Modified driver, Bouchard won track championships at Stafford Springs, Thompson and Seekonk speedways before moving up to what was then known as NASCAR's Grand National division. He made 160 starts at NASCAR’s top level, finishing a career-best eighth in points in '82. In addition to his one win, Bouchard scored 19 top-five and 60 top-10 finishes. He won the series' rookie title in a class that included Morgan Shepherd , Tim Richmond and Joe Ruttman. Seven years later, his brother Ken Bouchard captured the series rookie of the year award as well.
Cain: Busch keeps pedal down after comeback, championship
RELATED: Photos of Kyle's 36 Cup Series victories Kyle Busch showed up in the Texas Motor Speedway media center in the early Sunday morning hours donning the new cowboy hat he had received in Victory Lane a few moments earlier and smiling like a guy who hasn't lost a race in weeks. He is that guy. Busch will arrive in Bristol, Tennessee, this week on a four-race winning streak that includes Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup wins two weeks ago in Martinsville, Va. and an XFINITY Series and Sprint Cup sweep on the Texas high banks this past weekend. He is the first driver since Harry Gant in 1991 to sweep national series events in back-to-back weekends. It's a record ninth time that Busch has swept a race weekend. As Busch joined his Joe Gibbs Racing team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Adam Stevens to answer questions from the media at Texas, he straightened his hat and sat up high in his chair, looking every bit as comfortable in this very familiar position as you might expect. In prefacing my question to Busch, I rattled off some incredible statistics given to the media earlier that night to put Busch's latest victory in perspective. This was his 18th top-five and 22nd top-10 finish in the 32 races since he returned from serious leg and foot injuries suffered in Daytona last season. Because the information was given minutes before Busch took the checkered flag, the win tally didn't reflect the TMS win. Busch's first response was to correct my victory total, "that's seven wins," he said grinning -- almost playful in being eager to set the record straight. And even that correct number is most likely upwardly fleeting. Busch's win at Texas ties him with Matt Kenseth for third-most all-time (36) among active drivers and at a mere 30 years old, Busch will be approaching the retiring Tony Stewart 's 48-win total before long. WATCH: Did Kyle think he could win without a caution? "I think that it's just a part of everyone coming together," Busch said. "It's not just me, it's not just (wife) Samantha, but it's (crew chief) Adam Stevens, it's Coach (Joe) Gibbs, it's the organization and everyone rallying around us. It's my medical team, everyone that helped me, getting me healthy and forcing me to do the therapies and things like that and getting up in the morning and going and trying to get better faster. "I think things are clicking. Things are jelling. It's all worked real well and it's been exciting to have the success that we've had as of late and let's just keep it going." Busch's body of work since his serious injury is among the top efforts he's had in a 12-year full-time Sprint Cup career -- a substantial run that began when Busch was only 18 years old. His title run last year remains among the most amazing in Cup history considering the severity of the injuries and that he missed half a season. He returned to claim the 2015 Sprint Cup championship trophy after winning four out of five races a month after his return from a broken leg and foot suffered in the 2015 season-opening XFINITY Series race in Daytona Beach, Florida. He recorded six top-five finishes in the final 10 races and won the Homestead-Miami finale where he hoisted that championship trophy high. It's entirely possible that Busch extends this impressive streak at Bristol Motor Speedway . Busch has won five times in the Sprint Cup car at Bristol and has 13 top-10 runs in 21 starts. But he's gone eight whole Bristol races without a victory, the longest streak between premier series wins there. He has eight XFINITY Series titles at the half-mile bullring, including four of the last five races. The exception in that span was a "paltry" runner-up finish in the fall of 2014. He has an incredible 18 top-10 runs in 22 XFINITY starts there. And, he has four victories in the Camping World Truck Series races there and finished a near-miss second place last year after winning the pole position. "You're got to have all the pieces of the puzzle put together, but I think more importantly we've got good cars [and] the crew chiefs are just doing a really good job right now," Busch said. "I feel like the (Toyota Racing Development) guys are on top of their game as well. We've got everything going for us. The cars are good, the engines are good and crew chiefs are smart. Again, whole puzzle." Another thing about the hat Busch wore after the race -- it was white. For a guy who typically receives "the guy in the black hat" treatment from the crowd, there was a lot of irony in that. He's a dad now and wants to be a good example for his nearly 1-year old son, Brexton. And when Busch gets booed from the grandstands during driver introductions these days, it's increasingly because he's "winning too much." After the Texas winner's press conference, Gibbs, Stevens and Busch got up to re-join the celebration. As Busch rose to push his chair under the table, he leaned over to catch my attention and reiterated with a smile, "Remember, that was seven [wins]." Yes. And, with the way Busch and his team are performing, it won't be the total for long. MORE: Start Busch this weekend? Get fantasy advice
Kyle Busch wins NMPA Driver of the Year Award
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch , who rallied from injuries sustained in a season-opening crash to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, has been named the 2015 recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award. Busch, 30, suffered a broken right leg and left foot in a crash during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway last February. After missing the season’s first 11 points races, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota returned with a vengeance. He won four of five races, including three straight, during the summer to qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup . In the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Busch beat 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to win the race and earn his first Sprint Cup championship. In addition to Homestead, Busch also scored wins at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Kentucky Speedway , New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway . It was his first Brickyard 400 title and the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing . He finished the season with 12 top-five and 16 top-10 results. "I just want to thank the National Motorsports Press Association for voting me as the Richard Petty Driver of the Year," said Busch. "Last year was the most challenging, yet rewarding year of my career. While this honor has my name on it, I don't think it would have possible without the hard work and dedication from everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing , Toyota and TRD. "On the personal side, I can't thank the doctors and everyone at OrthoCarolina enough for helping me get back into racing shape, but also my wife Samantha and my entire family for all they did to get me back on my feet. Just looking at the list of past winners, it’s a tremendous honor to have my name mentioned along with many other great champions of our sport." In addition to his Sprint Cup success, Busch, a team owner in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, also scored six wins in the XFINITY Series and two in the Truck Series. Others receiving votes were Jeff Gordon ( Hendrick Motorsports ), Joey Logano ( Team Penske ), Harvick ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) and Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ). Busch was presented the award Jan. 17 during the NMPA's annual convention in Concord, N.C. The Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award has been presented each year since 1969 and is determined by a vote of the NMPA membership. It is named in honor of Petty, a seven-time champion and the all-time win leader in NASCAR with 200 career premier series victories. Richard Petty Driver of the Year Recipients 2015, Kyle Busch ; 2014, Kevin Harvick ; 2013, Jimmie Johnson ; 2012, Brad Keselowski ; 2011, Tony Stewart ; 2010, Jimmie Johnson ; 2009, Jimmie Johnson ; 2008, Carl Edwards ; 2007, Jimmie Johnson ; 2006, Jimmie Johnson ; 2005, Tony Stewart ; 2004, Jimmie Johnson ; 2003, Ryan Newman ; 2002, Tony Stewart ; 2001, Kevin Harvick ; 2000, Bobby Labonte ; 1999, Dale Jarrett; 1998, Jeff Gordon ; 1997, Dale Jarrett; 1996, Terry Labonte ; 1995, Jeff Gordon ; 1994, Dale Earnhardt; 1993, Rusty Wallace; 1992, Davey Allison; 1991, Harry Gant ; 1990, Dale Earnhardt; 1989, Mark Martin ; 1988, Rusty Wallace; 1987, Dale Earnhardt; 1986, Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt; 1985, Bill Elliott ; 1984, Terry Labonte ; 1983, Bobby Allison; 1982, Darrell Waltrip; 1981, Darrell Waltrip; 1980, Dale Earnhardt; 1979, Cale Yarborough; 1978, Cale Yarborough; 1977, Cale Yarborough; 1976, Darrell Waltrip; 1975, Richard Petty; 1974, Richard Petty; 1973, David Pearson; 1972, Bobby Allison; 1971, Bobby Allison; 1970, Bobby Isaac; 1969, LeeRoy Yarbrough.
HScott Motorsports will not field a team for 2017
Harry Scott Jr., owner of HScott Motorsports, announced that his team will not field a NASCAR entry for the 2017 season.
Kyle Busch extends streak, corrals Texas win
RELATED: Full race results " Updated driver standings STORE: Shop for winning driver gear FORT WORTH, Texas -- Opportunistic Kyle Busch sped away from the rest of the field after a restart with 33 laps left in Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and collected his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. What's more, Busch won his fourth straight NASCAR national series race, having swept last week's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Martinsville Speedway and having won Friday night's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas. "It's pretty darn good, I'll tell you that," Busch said of his streak -- and life. "I've got a great wife, a great son and I'm having a blast, living the dream." Quite simply, the prodigious numbers continue to pile up for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Busch posted his 36th victory of his Sprint Cup career and his second at Texas, having also swept the spring weekend at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2013. Busch is the second driver to sweep consecutive NASCAR weekends. Harry Gant accomplished the feat in 1991, winning both the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup races on consecutive weekends at Richmond and Dover. With the victory, Busch also virtually secured a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , as he will look to defend the title he won last year. "Our car was really, really fast, especially entry and center of the corner, and as the night progressed, I think the track actually came to us a little bit," said Busch, who took over the series lead by six points over fourth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson . "Our car got a lot better, and (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) made some great adjustments all night long. "We fought it in the beginning. We weren't very good …" Just good enough to win at the end. Dale Earnhardt Jr . came home second after passing eventual third-place finisher Joey Logano for the runner-up spot with eight laps left. Johnson ran fourth, despite a succession of pit road issues, the first of which involved contact with Busch's Toyota during the first pit stops of the race on Lap 30. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott scored a career-best fifth-place finish, one spot ahead of Martin Truex Jr ., who led a race-high 141 laps but lost ground on old tires during the final 33-lap green-flag run. "It hurts a little bit, but we'll just take the positives and move on," said Truex, who was the clear class of the field until divergent pit strategies proved his undoing. Truex and Austin Dillon stayed out on old tires under caution on Lap 290 while all other lead-lap cars came to pit road for fresh tires. Though Truex maintained his lead, the move was disastrous for Dillon, who dropped back rapidly after the restart on Lap 293 and washed up the track racing off Turn 2 in close quarters with Denny Hamlin . Dillon's Chevrolet slid up into the path of Jimmie Johnson , who was unable to avoid contact. Dillon was turned sharply into the outside wall and bounced across the track into oncoming traffic. The resulting 13-car accident damaged all three Richard Childress Racing cars and scrambled the field for the decisive restart on Lap 302. RELATED: Thirteen-car wreck claims all three RCR cars Busch rocketed to the outside at the drop of the green flag, and cleared Logano through Turns 3 and 4 as Truex faded on old rubber. "The restart was going to be key," Busch said. "If I could just get out in front of him, I knew I could protect the rest of the race. They had a good restart, but we got a better one, and I just had to get up on his door. He chose the inside and the inside has been winning the race all night long, but this time, on the last restart, (the outside) finally prevailed for us." Polesitter Carl Edwards led 124 laps but returned to pit road with a loose wheel after a restart on Lap 222 and spent nearly 70 circuits one lap down before working his way back to seventh at the finish. Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10. MORE: All of Kyle's Cup wins
Stewart to retire from Sprint Cup Series after 2016
RELATED: Photos of Stewart through the years " Bowyer tabbed as replacement Three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart smiled and conceded it was a "formality at this point" in announcing Wednesday afternoon that he would step away from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition following the 2016 season. "It was a choice that is 100 percent mine, no pressure from anybody," Stewart said of his decision not to compete full-time anymore. "If anything, it's been the opposite, more people trying to talk me out of it. "Everyone in their career makes a decision when it's time for a change. I think deep down you know when it's time to do something different and make a change like this." Appearing jovial and without a hint of second-thought about his career decision, Stewart joked he was bringing Harry Gant out of retirement to drive the the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy in 2017, then confirmed that actually Clint Bowyer would be taking over his seat. The news confirmed months of speculation and rumor about Stewart's future and solidified Bowyer's career path as well with Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team closing operations at the end of 2015. "It's all about people, all about culture for me, and I don't think the fit factor could be any better," said Bowyer, acknowledging the SHR ride was "one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport" and said an announcement is coming later this week about his 2016 plans. Wednesday was clearly more about "the people's champion" as Stewart is often referred. One of the most popular and accomplished champions to ever compete in NASCAR's marquee series, Stewart, 44, has won three premier series titles as a driver (2002, 2005, 2011) and two as an owner (2011, 2014), accumulated 48 victories and won over countless hearts as a kind of extreme throw-back talent garnering comparisons to racing's all-time greats such as A.J. Foyt and Dale Earnhardt. Quite simply, Stewart won in every car he drove. And NASCAR fans always appreciated that about the driver known by his nickname, "Smoke." RELATED: Drivers react to Stewart's announcement Stewart won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 15 straight seasons from his 1999 rookie year through 2013, and he has 11 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins in 94 starts -- roughly winning once every 10 times he tried. He won twice in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and had five top-10 finishes. "When I think of Tony Stewart , unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a release. "He has won championships and millions of fans. But he has given back so much more, and that's what I admire most. Today's news was bittersweet for all, but we know Tony will continue to be a big part of our sport in his roles as a team and track owner. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Tony for his many years of excellence and competitiveness, and wish him nothing but the best in his final season as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series." The 1997 IndyCar champion -- and 1996 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race -- proved his mettle against motorsports' best drivers, winning four times in IROC competition, earning the 2006 IROC championship and finishing runner-up in 2001. In 1999 he completed racing's Memorial Day "Double," finishing ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later that same day in North Carolina. Stewart was the first driver in history to win all three major United States Auto Club national championships -- Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown -- in a single season. So after essentially four decades behind the wheel fulltime, Stewart said he contemplated this decision for a while and said this week, he is completely at peace. "I've learned a lot about myself," Stewart said. You run through the range of emotions. There's days you're like, I can't wait, and then there's days that are like, man, do I ‑‑ you battle back and forth. "I'm not leaving the sport I love. I'm not walking away from something I'm passionate about, I'm just changing roles, which it's like just moving to a different position in a company. "I'm not really retiring, I'm just changing positions." RELATED: Best quotes from Stewart's press conference It's been an admittedly uphill climb for the champ after the last three seasons of horrible injury and extreme heartbreak. He missed the last 15 races in the 2013 season after suffering a compound leg fracture while competing in a sprint car race. Then last year, while still mending from that injury, Stewart was involved in another sprint car accident. This time, another competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., was killed when, after approaching Stewart's car on track during a caution period, the car struck Ward. Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races immediately after. No criminal charges were found to be justified against Stewart; the Ward family filed a civil lawsuit against him a year later. On Wednesday Stewart stressed that his decision to stop driving in the Cup series full-time had "zero percent to with (the Ward situation)" and that physically, "my leg feels fine, there's nothing wrong with my leg." He said he may even compete in Sprint cars again. He listed the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a possibility and mentioned racing modifieds and making sporadic starts in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series -- all things he plans to do without the stress and full schedule of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup ranks. RELATED: Tony talks toll on leg, life In the past two seasons, Stewart has struggled to post the kind of top-shelf results both he and his fans had grown accustomed to seeing. But he has consistently insisted that was more to do with the current rules package than his off-track distractions. He said earlier this year that NASCAR's new high downforce, low horsepower car does not suit his style and is actually "the opposite of everything I've ever driven. "It's like I'm in the middle of a calculus equation and I didn't take pre-calculus,'' Stewart told NASCAR.com this May. He is currently 25th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings with a sub-standard two top-10 finishes in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this year. But he was adamant that he would not be coasting in his final season and that this decision was not "performance based." Stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His resume out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. "It's just time to do what we're doing," Stewart said. "I still fully anticipate we're going to get things turned around. If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't waste my time next year for anybody. I'm not a guy that's going to get in a car and ride. We're full steam ahead. "We're going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year, and that goal is going to be ‑‑ when you guys get to February, go ahead and write this down, what our goals are for the year, we're going to try to win races, try to win the Daytona 500 , then the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, and try to win a championship." Ultimately, stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His effort out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. His namesake Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team is the reigning Sprint Cup owner champion thanks to Kevin Harvick 's 2014 championship run, and two of his team's four drivers -- Harvick and Kurt Busch -- are in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . This summer Stewart collected his 10th Knoxville Nationals trophy in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series fielding a car for driver Donny Schatz, who has also delivered five World of Outlaw championships for Stewart. He has 23 national titles as a team owner. "I've won more car championships as an owner than a driver," Stewart said "I'm definitely as competitive as an owner as I am a driver. …That fire's still there and that's what makes this transition easier." While his success driving and fielding cars is partly responsible for Stewart's incredible popularity over the years, he is also one of the sport's most robust personalities. RELATED: 'Smoke' still the people's champion He's not afraid to express his displeasure at his competitors' blunders, and the other drivers have come to expect either face time or bumper time with him after on track run-ins. And Stewart's "no-fools" tolerance policy extends to the media covering his career. There are highlight reels devoted to showcasing him sparring with reporters in press conferences and on pit road -- his wit and sarcasm legendary with the media corps. He grinned broadly and warned the room of reporters on Wednesday that he will not follow the guide of four-time champ Jeff Gordon who has met with the press nearly every week during this -- his last -- year of NASCAR competition. "Let's establish this right now: I will not be coming to the media center every week to talk about it,'" Stewart said smiling and shaking his head. "You can save your gifts. I've got enough rocking chairs at home as it is. I bought those when I wanted to go sit on my own rocking chair. You don't have to give me one. "I'm content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans," he continued. "They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that'll be sufficient for me. "I think it's been very fitting for Jeff [Gordon]. I don't think I'm worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff." One thing Stewart has across the board is respect -- from his competitors, to the fans and to the media who will be watching closely to see how this next chapter in his career and life plays out. He gave a couple hints on Wednesday afternoon. When it's time to drop the green flag for the 2017 Daytona 500 – the first one run without Tony Stewart on the grid since 1999 – the champ says he hasn't figured out quite yet where he'll be, but spoke about one possibility. "I'll probably be on some fan's motor home on the back stretch promoting our sponsors," Stewart said laughing. "I have no idea where I'm supposed to be yet. I've got a whole year to figure that out."