NASCAR superstar and top pitchman Tony Stewart officially announced his plans to retire from America’s preeminent racing circuit following the 2016 season on Wednesday, capping an incredible and Hall of Fame worthy career that saw him earn millions.
The three-time NASCAR Cup champion has served as one of his sport’s most bankable stars on and off the track since he burst onto the scene in 1999. Stewart, 44, clarified that he will continue racing beyond 2016, but that he will no longer compete in the Sprint Cup Series in Stewart-Haas Racing‘s No. 14 Chevrolet.
“NASCAR is probably going to be the most disappointed of everybody today because they aren't getting rid of me,” Stewart told reporters from Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters. “They have to deal with me as an owner. There's still the opportunity to get fined and there's still the opportunity to be put on probation, just like always, just from a different capacity than now.”
Stewart certainly won’t walk away from stock car racing’s most lucrative circuit empty handed. Over the last 17 years, across multiple racing series, Stewart’s accumulated winnings of $128,522,031 over 743 races, according to Racing-Reference.info.
After taxes, many estimates peg Stewart’s total net worth to be around $70 million. As recently as 2013, Stewart was ranked No. 83 on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes with earnings of $18.5 million between salary, race winnings, and endorsements. In 2012, he was ranked No. 47. The only NASCAR driver to make the most current Top 100 list is Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 55), whose estimated total for 2015 is $23.6 million from winnings and endorsements.
Much of Stewart's wealth came from his work on racing’s business side. In addition to serving as a spokesman with such high-profile sponsors like Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Go Daddy, and Bass Pro Shops, Stewart also helped build Stewart-Haas Racing into one the top teams in the sport. Back in 2009, Stewart joined Gene Haas’ small, slightly struggling venture and they’ve since claimed two Cup titles and brought star female driver Danica Patrick to the forefront of the sport.
"He basically turned Haas CNC Racing into Stewart-Haas Racing — which is really two different entities. There’s really two different entities. In a sense, he brought the talent, and I brought the jack stands," Haas said with a laugh to Motorsport.com. "So unfortunately, there’s a lot more jack stands than talent. When Tony brought the talent, that’s what turned everything around for us. He had the foresight to say, ‘This is something that I want to do.'"
According to Sporting News, Stewart also has stakes in Paducah International Raceway in Kentucky and Macon Speedway in Illinois.
Stewart’s brand and his confidence on the track did, however, take significant blows over the last two years. The broken leg he suffered in a crash in 2013 kept him out of the final third of that year’s season. In Aug. 2014, he collided with and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. in a sprint car race in central New York. Ward's family is suing Stewart over the crash.