HAMPTON, Ga. – Tony Stewart will have to take care of business with another major sponsor.
Shortly before Stewart started from the pole Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Office Depot would not return as one of the primary co-sponsors of the No. 14 car next season.
Office Depot shared the role with Mobil 1, which does plan to return in 2013. But Stewart must find additional sponsorship, no easy task in these economic times, even for a three-time Sprint Cup champion.
"SHR is in continued discussions with Office Depot regarding possible future roles the company could have with the team," Stewart-Haas spokesman Mike Arning said.
Mindy Kramer, a spokeswoman for Office Depot, called Stewart "an exceptional ambassador for our brand, and he has gone above and beyond in everything that he has done for our company."
"The decision to significantly curtail our relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing was very difficult and one that we did not take lightly," Kramer said. "However, the changing business landscape warrants a realignment of priorities and resources."
Like many NASCAR teams, Stewart-Haas finds itself in a challenging position to line up financial support. Its second car, the No. 39 driven by Ryan Newman, lost its primary sponsor when the U.S. Army announced this would be its final season in the sport. The team does appear in good shape with Danica Patrick, who is scheduled to move into a full-time Cup ride next year with GoDaddy as its sponsor.
Stewart won his third championship last year in a memorable duel with Carl Edwards, winning the final race of the season at Homestead to take the title on a tiebreaker.
Despite a 22nd-place finish Sunday night, Stewart locked up at least a wild-card spot in the Chase, giving him a shot at his fourth title.
"Being a part of his legendary 2011 championship run was a moment of tremendous pride for everyone at Office Depot," Kramer said. "Regardless of what kind of role we'll have with Tony and SHR, our support for them will not change. The Office Depot family will always be with Smoke, cheering him on to many more championships."
HARD-LUCK EDWARDS: After another bitter disappointment, Carl Edwards' chances of getting back to the Chase for the championship are just about finishing.
The No. 99 car blew a piston on lap 264, leaving Edwards with a 36th-place finish in a race he desperately needed to win.
Now, having slipped to 14th in the standings and still without a victory this season, he'll head to Richmond next weekend knowing he must finish first to have any chance of making the playoff — and even that may not be enough.
"I don't even know what to say," a shell-shocked Edwards said. "That's so fitting for how our year has been going."
Last year, Edwards was denied his first series championship in the final race of the season, edged out by Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker.
Now, it looks as though Edwards won't even be part of the mix in this year's 10-race playoff.
"We're going to Richmond, where anything can happen," Edwards said. "Hopefully whatever happens involves us winning the race and getting in the Chase."
Clearly, he has nothing to lose in the next race.
"We're probably going to drive pretty hard," Edwards said, managing a smile. "It's going to be fun. We're just going to go up there and let it hang out, do everything we can to win and the heck with the consequences. Maybe we can do something spectacular."
But Edwards seems to have come to grips with the likely outcome of a frustrating season.
"A bad day at the races," he said, "is still better than a good day at a real job."
AILING LOGANO: Joey Logano made it to the end of the race despite an upset stomach.
After filling in at both practice sessions Saturday, Michael McDowell was in Logano's pits Sunday night, ready to step in again if Logano couldn't finish the race.
Despite a malfunctioning cooling system that undoubtedly made his condition more challenging on a humid evening, Logano drove to an 18th-place finish in the AdvoCare 500.
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