Former AMA Supercross and Motocross Champion James Stewart officially announced his long-awaited plans for 2012 and beyond and, as expected, those plans include a move to the Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross (JGRMX) team after spending the last three years on the San Manuel/L&M Yamaha team. Prior to that, Stewart was a factory Kawasaki rider.
Following months of negotiations, phone calls and emails - many of those with NASCAR team owner and former NFL football coach Joe Gibbs and his son, JGRMX team president Coy Gibbs, Stewart signed a three-year deal with the team.
"I needed to make a change, last year there was just too much going on," said Stewart. "So I wanted to take my time and make the right decision, and I felt this [JGRMX] was the best bet for me."
"This is going to be awesome," said Joe Gibbs. "This is something we've dreamed about. We've spent four years working our guts out, and [signing Stewart] makes us a credible threat at a championship; Coy always said, 'I want the best people.’ “
"We are just so happy he signed with us," said Coy Gibbs. "He could've gone anywhere. We know he wins championships, so it's our turn as a team to step up and support him. We've got a first-class team that can help him win a championship."
Perhaps the biggest news coming out of all of this is that Stewart will again compete in both the Supercross and outdoor Motocross Championships next year.
"We will race everything," said Stewart. Which also means races like the one-off Monster Energy Cup, which he just missed. "[In motocross this year] I felt like with the group of guys out there - to go out there and race against both Ryans [Villopoto and Dungey] and Chad [Reed] - I felt we had to be prepared to go racing; I felt like we weren't."
Next year, he says, motocross is definitely in the plans.
It's also been unclear of late as to what brand of motorcycle the JGRMX team would be racing as other brands were definitely an option, but in the end it came down to Yamaha with Stewart set to ride a YZ450F under the JGRMX banner with factory support. JGRMX, however, does much of its own R&D and use pretty much whatever aftermarket parts they want - such as FMF.
Stewart, who has a long-time relationship with Red Bull, says there is no conflict between Red Bull and FMF, which also produces an energy drink – the feeling is that everyone knows the difference between FMF the exhaust company and FMF the energy drink.
For some, Stewart sticking with Yamaha comes as a surprise, since Stewart appeared to be out of sync with the YZ450F the past few years and rumors indicated that he flat out didn't like the bike. But Stewart denies that the problems and crashes he's had on the track were all about the bike.
"It's obvious that last year  I was struggling with the bike, but it was more about the team and just being happy," said Stewart. "It's a lot different here [JGRMX] than what we had at L&M, knowing this team is doing 100 percent. The biggest difference is that I needed to be happy again, and I'm super happy now. These guys want to win - it's all about winning here. Truly, this is the first time I've been happy since I won all those races [in 2008]. The atmosphere here is super laid back and I can concentrate on racing and not so much on the bike anymore. The biggest thing is being surrounded with a good team; before, there was too much going on - trying to set up the motorcycle and then go racing."
Stewart added, "The difference is you have a relationship with guys for three years, you have your ups and downs, and the biggest thing for me was - I just wanted to come here and race. I wanted to be on a team where you're just focused on racing. I felt the last team I was on, there was always something - other things. Here, it's a chance for me to get back to the roots and just worry about racing and winning."
One of the reasons Stewart is so happy joining JGRMX is that he'll be re-united with his former long-time mechanic Jeremy "J-Bone" Albrecht, who wrenched for Stewart while he was on the factory Kawasaki team. Albrecht joined JGRMX as team manager when it first started up a few years ago.
"It's going to be good being with J-Bone again," he said. "He was with me when I came into my career and he has seen me grow up. I can trust him."
There was another incentive for Stewart to sign with JGRMX: He now has closer ties to the NASCAR world, which is something Stewart has said he would like to go to when his motorcycle-racing days are through. In fact, at a press conference held today at the JGRMX facility in North Carolina, a racecar painted up in Yamaha-racing blue with the James Stewart-signature #7 on it was also on display.
"First of all, my goal is to win a championship for the MX team, and to look at the future, and the future is car racing. [But] I've got a lot to do in [motocross] racing first. Coming here allows me to get my feet wet [racing cars]."
Evidently, his feet will get wet in only a few weeks when he says he'll get the chance to race a car.
"They're going to get me out to South Boston and try it out. "Coach" [Joe Gibbs] told me that I have the chance to do something good in two different sports."
Another plus for Stewart is that the team is based on the East Coast, only an hour-plus flight from his home in Florida, which will no doubt save some wear and tear on his body when he needs to test at the facility.
"I love the East Coast and I love the facility here [JGRMX], so I don't have to travel to California. With the help of Yamaha, it works out for everybody."
Overall, Stewart’s signing with JGRMX does make plenty of sense, and it appears that Stewart is truly happy with his new deal.
His first official race on the Toyota/Yamaha/JGRMX Racing YZ450F will be the opening round of the AMA Supercross Championship in Anaheim, California, January 7.