Zipadelli as interim crew chief a boon for Patrick

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When Danica Patrick makes her Sprint Cup debut at the Daytona 500 in February, she’ll have one of the best crew chiefs in the garage overseeing her entry into NASCAR’s top series.

In addition to his new role as competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, Greg Zipadelli will serve as interim crew chief for Patrick’s No. 10 team. Patrick is set to run 10 Sprint Cup races for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012, starting with the Daytona 500.

Zipadelli said Friday he expects to be Patrick’s crew chief for the season-opening race and for an unspecified number of races until a permanent crew chief is found. The former Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief said he will be putting together Patrick’s new team and will play an active role in the building of her racecars.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be fun and exciting,” Zipadelli said. “It’s a great opportunity. We’re going to go and do the best we can with it, surround her with the best people we can and give her a great opportunity.”

Though Zipadelli has yet to speak with Patrick, he praised the former IndyCar driver’s perseverance and talent as she makes the full-time jump to NASCAR next season. Besides running a part-time Sprint Cup schedule, Patrick will compete full-time in the Nationwide Series.

“She’s got more determination than most people,” Zipadelli said. “She has confidence in her ability and has proven that in the past. The big thing about it is the want and that desire – that seems to be there without any question at all.”

In his 13 years with Joe Gibbs Racing, Zipadelli has 34 Sprint Cup wins and two series championships (2002 and 2005) to his name. Both titles and all but one of those race wins came with SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, cementing the pairing as one of the most successful driver-crew chief combinations in NASCAR’s modern era.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs 
Having Zipadelli as a crew chief is a boon for Patrick, who will compete in NASCAR’s biggest race as a rookie. Patrick has already shown promise at Daytona. At both Nationwide races this year, Patrick demonstrated an aptitude for bump drafting. In February, Patrick became the first woman in NASCAR history to lead a lap at Daytona, finishing 14th. Catching on to the two-by-two style of drafting, she led 13 laps in the July race before finishing 10th after a late-race crash.

For the all-important crew chief role, Zipadelli is looking for someone who fits in with Stewart-Haas Racing and can work with Patrick for the long term as she eyes a full-time Sprint Cup career in 2013. Zipadelli said finding the right person may take “until the end of the year.”

If that turns out to be the case, Zipadelli could serve on top of the No. 10 pit box for the remainder of Patrick’s first year in Sprint Cup.

As Zipadelli also has experience helping another driver with an open-wheel background transition into NASCAR – team owner Stewart – Patrick could benefit greatly from Zipadelli’s guiding influence. Plus, for the last three years, Zipadelli worked with Joey Logano and helped the young driver with his transition into Sprint Cup. On Friday, Zipadelli said he will rely on his patience and the lessons he learned from working with Stewart and Logano to aid Patrick.

In addition to Daytona, Patrick’s 2012 Sprint Cup schedule includes Darlington (May 12), the Bristol night race (Aug. 25), Atlanta (Sept. 2), Chicagoland (Sept. 16), the fall races at Dover (Sept. 30), Texas (Nov. 4) and Phoenix (Nov. 11), and two more races to be announced.

Zipadelli’s proven record of success as a crew chief and his experience helping Stewart and Logano transition to NASCAR make him an excellent choice of a mentor for Patrick. As she prepares to enter the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick will have one of the top crew chiefs in NASCAR, a championship-winning team and engines from Hendrick Motorsports all at her disposal. This sets up the former IndyCar driver with the best shot any woman has had at making it at NASCAR's top level.
Zipadelli as interim crew chief a boon for Patrick Zipadelli as interim crew chief a boon for Patrick Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Friday, December 16, 2011 Rating: 5