Stewart says other NASCAR OEM’s are ruining careers with their driver development program
Early in his career, Kyle Larson was signed as a Toyota development driver. However, Toyota didn’t have any seats for him and the driver bailed.
In 2013, Larson made his NASCAR Cup Series debut with Phoenix Racing, a then affiliate with Hendrick Motorsports. In 2014, he was signed by another Chevrolet team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
Earlier this year, Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing after the driver used a racial slur on a public audio channel during an iRacing event. Larson was attempting to reach his personal spotter on a private channel. He was also suspended by NASCAR.
In recent months, Tony Stewart was vocal is encouraging NASCAR to lift the suspension of Larson. Obviously, Stewart was in discussions to sign Larson for 2021. Stewart had expressed interest in hiring Larson, for many years.
However, the rumors of Larson heading to Stewart-Haas Racing dissipated recently. The new rumor is of Larson heading to the No. 5 with Hendrick Motorsports.
On Monday, NASCAR announced plans to lift their ban of Larson. On Tuesday, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Chase Briscoe as the driver of the No. 14 in 2021.
Tony Stewart on the manufacture pipeline and Kyle Larson
“They were two separate things actually,” Tony Stewart explained to Bob Pockrass of Chase Briscoe and Kyle Larson.
“I think Ford’s done an awesome job with their driver development program. There’s not a lot of drivers in it but there’s a reason there’s not a lot of drivers in it because they put that focus on that small group of race car drivers.”
“Versus one of the other OEM’s out there, that is in my opinion, ruining other driver’s careers on a daily basis. By just signing mass numbers of drivers. Then at the end of it, they don’t have anywhere to go with them.”
“They decide they don’t like them. Those drivers, and most of them are young drivers, lose opportunities that they could have had along the way to go somewhere else.”
Ford’s driver development program
“That’s what I’m proud of Ford about. They’re very selective. They’re mindful of when these drivers make that commitment, they work with them and really push them to get them where they need to be.”
“It’s not throwing darts at a dartboard. Chase is a prime example of that. They [Ford] were the one’s to really recognize his talent, before anybody else got him in the system.”
“With our Xfinity program, that is the whole point of having an Xfinity program. To try to cultivate talent from the driver’s side, crew chief’s side or pit crew’s side.”
Stewart concluded, “So, the Larson piece was a whole separate side.”
Last month, Aric Almirola re-signed with Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s exactly when the rumors around Kyle Larson and Stewart-Haas Racing stalled.
It’s reasonable to assume that Briscoe was always going to the No. 14 or No. 10. But, Larson was considered as a second new driver for the team in 2021, that potential switch came to an end with Almirola’s contract renewal for 2021.