By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In what he described as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Bass Pro Shops founder announced Friday at Talladega Superspeedway that the hunting and fishing retailer will serve as primary sponsor next year for 18 races on Tony Stewart's No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
Bass Pro's move from the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray to Stewart-Haas fills a void left by the departure of Office Depot from Stewart's car. Mobil 1 will be on the hood of Stewart's car for 11 races next year, with nine races still unsubscribed.
Longtime friends Stewart and Morris began discussions when Stewart learned of Office Depot's possible departure.
"I didn't go to Johnny trying to steal a sponsor from somebody," Stewart said. "We just let it be known to him that, if there ever was an opportunity, we had an opportunity available on our side, and if he ever decided that he was wanting to make a change, we wanted him to know that we were available."
It didn't take Morris long to make up his mind.
"It didn't take us too long to shake hands," Morris added. "It's something that we've had -- Tony said a shared dream -- and I really feel that's the case. It's something that we had, a dream, maybe, to do. ...
"Tony wakes up every day with a passion to be the best race driver in the world that's ever been, and I think that's contagious to people in our company who also have a lot of pride."
Neither Stewart nor Morris would reveal the specific terms of the sponsorship agreement.
"We just horse trade a little bit at a time," Morris quipped. "We might know how long it is, but we don't want all of our bankers to know just yet."
Morris said Bass Pro Shows would continue its relationships with Richard Childress Racing, which currently includes sponsorship of Childress grandsons -- Austin Dillon in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Ty Dillon in the Camping World Truck Series.
Morris also intimated that McMurray might still figure in the company's plans but did not elaborate.
BOWYER: TALLADEGA COULD DECIDE THE CHASE
If there's a race track in the Chase that can be a massive game changer, Clint Bowyer believes Talladega is it.
Bowyer, who won the last two fall races at the 2.66-mile track, hopes Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 affords him the opportunity to gain significant ground on the three drivers ahead of him in the standings, Chase leader Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
"I think this track is the reason why everybody in the Chase is still in it," Bowyer said Friday. "This is the only track that all of us can get wiped out, or maybe all of us but one or two . . . This is a dangerous wild-card race for the Chase, and you've just got to go out there and be as careful as you can and also be as aggressive as you can and try to get yourself in the situation to win this thing."
Bowyer, who trails Keselowski by 26 points, underscored just how important Sunday's race could be.
"This can be a game-changer," he said. "This is one of the tracks that can separate somebody and possibly win you a championship. It seems like each and every week these first few (Chase races). It's been a point or two here, a point or two there.
"This is one that can swing 20, 30 points and take you out of the running or push you into it. . . . I love racing here. It's so much fun. It's such a thrill to be able to go around there and know that the storm is brewing, and all hell is fixing to break loose, and you're fixing to be a part of it."
MONTREAL DEPARTS NATIONWIDE SCHEDULE
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve promoter Octane Management announced Friday that the NASCAR Nationwide Series will not return to the 2.71-mile Montreal road course in 2013, ending a six-year relationship.
Francois Dumontier, head of the Octane group that also promotes Formula One racing in the Quebec city, had lobbied for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said through his Twitter account that the track's decision was somewhat of a surprise and that NASCAR's second-tier series had expected to return.
NASCAR said it was in the process of ironing out its 2013 Nationwide schedule, which has 33 races this season.
"NASCAR appreciates the support and enthusiasm the great fans of Montreal have shown during our six years of exciting racing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve," NASCAR said in a statement. "It's been a great run for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at this historic venue. NASCAR was preparing to return for 2013, however we were unable to come to an agreement to renew the sanction."
DILLON TOPS TRUCK QUALIFYING
Ty Dillon, the rookie points leader in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, bolstered his position in Friday's qualifying, winning the pole for Saturday's Fred's 250 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Dillon circled the 2.66-mile track with a fast lap of 177.291 mph to edge Jason White's 176.617 mph lap and notch his third pole of the season. White will start second after his best qualifying effort of the year with James Buescher -- Dillon's closest challenger in the standings, just one point behind -- starting third.
Dillon, who posted a victory here in the ARCA series last season, will be making his first NASCAR national series start at Talladega in Saturday's 250-miler.
"We really weren't expecting to qualify that well," said Dillon, who will be racing the same truck he drove to a ninth-place finish in the season opener at Daytona. "We were just concentrating on the race and trying to get through Talladega, so it's really cool that we got that."
KYLE BUSCH BACK-PEDALS
Four days after excoriating his engine provider, Kyle Busch issued an apology, effectively reminding everyone of his profane tirade after last Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover.
Busch led 302 of the 400 laps, but an inconvenient caution late in the race -- from Busch's standpoint -- made fuel mileage an issue. Unable to run the final 89 laps on one tank of gas, Busch had to pit from the lead with 10 laps left.
The fuel situation proved to be a boon to race winner Brad Keselowski, who ran the final 89 laps without having to stop. On his team radio, Busch bashed Toyota Racing Development, which provides the engines for his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, for the lack of fuel economy.
"I made some remarks out of frustration on my radio at the end of last weekend's race in Dover that were very misguided," Busch said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "I owe my friends at Toyota and TRD an apology. We have a great partnership with TRD and they built me a motor that helped me lead over 300 laps and nearly lap the field.
"It's just frustrating that the caution fell where it did and suddenly it became a fuel mileage race and we were set up for maximum horsepower. Obviously, that worked well for most of the day and you can't control when the cautions will fall. I think we have a great partnership with TRD and we will continue to communicate with them on what our team is looking for. I'm looking forward to getting down to Talladega this weekend and focusing on the race."
The timing of the apology was somewhat strange, in that it revived an issue that had begun to fade. And if drivers had to apologize for everything said in the heat of the moment on team radios, there would be little time to write about anything else.