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Avid angler Stewart reels in biggest Bass yet

January 03, 2013,

Bass Pro Shops increases mark in sport, adorning Stewart's car for 18 races in '13

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Tony Stewart enjoyed one of his best days fishing with Johnny Morris. On a lake in Texas, the three-time champion of NASCAR's top series hooked dozens of bass, including a 12-pound largemouth that remains the biggest the driver has ever caught. Morris needed four attempts before was finally able to corral the thrashing creature in a net and drag it aboard the boat.

Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, though, Stewart showed off an even bigger catch -- Morris' company, Bass Pro Shops. The NASCAR sponsorship staple will become the primary sponsor on Stewart's No. 14 race car beginning next season. Currently the backer of Jamie McMurray's No. 1 car at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, the famous big green bass fish will switch teams for next season and adorn Stewart's vehicle for 18 races, including the Daytona 500.

"They're partners to us, not sponsors. The whole idea is to make it good for both sides."

-- Tony Stewart

The announcement comes three days after Stewart-Haas Racing unveiled another primary sponsor for next season, Quicken Loans, which will move up from associate status and back 18 races on Ryan Newman's car. After losing both its current primaries -- Office Depot and U.S. Army -- effective the end of this season, Stewart's organization has rapidly restocked its sponsorship inventory. Now, Newman's car is in the best shape it's ever been from a sponsor perspective, Stewart said, while the reigning champ is down to filling just nine open races on his car.

"They're partners to us, not sponsors," Stewart said. "The whole idea is to make it good for both sides. ... I think that's something we've been able to convey to potential sponsors, to existing sponsors, and I think that's why it works. We had misfortune with ... losing U.S. Army and Office Depot, but I think our reputation as a company has helped us be able to acquire the inventory back this quick."

The Bass Pro Shops sponsorship was first announced Thursday night at an event in Springfield, Mo., where the company is headquartered. The connection was a natural for Stewart, who has had a personal services agreement with Bass Pro Shops since 2001. The company has also backed Stewart's sprint and dirt late model cars, and over time Stewart and Morris have become good friends. An avid outdoorsman, Stewart was honorary chairman of this year's National Hunting and Fishing Day.

After the U.S. Army announced it will be departing Newman's car, and when he first got word that Office Depot was thinking about stepping down, Stewart approached Morris to gauge his interest.

"The one thing about Johnny is, he's very loyal," Stewart said. "We weren't trying to steal him away from anybody, but we just threw it out there -- if you ever decide to make a change, we had opportunities now that we really hadn't had in the past to do something," Stewart said. "When Office Depot made their announcement, it was very clear we had an opportunity on our car as well."

Morris, whose deal with EGR ends after this season, was sold. "It didn't take us too long to shake hands," he said. Bass Pro Shops has a history in NASCAR dating back to its days with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress Racing, and Morris said the company would likely continue its association with Ty and Austin Dillon. Bass Pro Shops is primary sponsor on Ty's Camping World Truck Series entry, and an associate on Austin's Nationwide car. Morris also didn't rule out a continued presence on McMurray's car, given how much his company has benefitted from its presence in NASCAR.

"A lot of NASCAR fans like to hunt and fish," Morris said. "We came to realize that the first time we sponsored Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s car in the all-star race. It was amazing. In a 30-day period, they sold over $10 million worth of caps, T-shirts and die-cast cars. That spoke obviously to the popularity of Dale Sr., to the popularity of NASCAR and how many of those fans wanted to buy a souvenir that had Bass Pro on it. That said, 'We like to hunt and finish, and the outdoors, too.'"

Bass Pro Shops has been primary sponsor on McMurray's car the past two years, and while Morris praised the EGR organization, he said he couldn't resist the "once-in-a-lifetime chance" to work with Stewart. Now Stewart has nine races left to fill on his car for 2013, and while he could rely on co-owner Gene Haas' company to plug that deficit, he'd rather find another sponsor to go along with Bass Pro Shops and Mobil 1 -- the latter of which will back 11 races on his vehicle next season.

"Haas Automation could fill in if we needed to, but we hope to find someone to fill in those final nine races for us," Stewart said. "... My goal as his business partner is to not have to fall back on him and utilize his resources that way."