Zippy's Back In Charge

Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images, June 27, 2009 New Hampshire Motor Speedway  

"For the last 10 years, I had Greg's leadership and have had the security blanket and the peace of mind of knowing that Zippy's in charge of this. He knows me better than 99 percent of the girlfriends I've ever had in my life, I think." Tony Stewart,, July 2008.     

“We’re very proud to have Greg Zipadelli join Stewart-Haas Racing ... Greg and I have a long and successful history together. I know him and he knows me, and we both know what it takes to build race teams." Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing press release, December 2011 

The new Stewart-Haas Racing Director of Competition and the 2011 Sprint Cup Champion have history together. Ten seasons of history. 33 Wins. Two championships. They've been apart three long seasons, but Greg Zipadelli and Tony Stewart are finally reunited.

When Tony Stewart took the checkered flag at Homestead to win both the race and the championship, many in the NASCAR Nation cheered at his improbable triumph. Just as many shook their heads in disbelief. Surely Tony Stewart wouldn't release crew chief Darian Grubb with the Sprint Cup in his hands, would he?

He did.

Rumors about Grubb's replacement swirled at the speed of Twitter until on Nov. 28, Stewart-Haas confirmed that Steve Addington, who left Penske Racing prior to the release of  Kurt Busch and without revealing a clear destination, would indeed be atop the pit box for the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil One Chevrolet. Then on Dec. 6, Zipadelli tweeted a photo of Addington and himself with the text, "Looking forward to a great year ..." and igniting another firestorm of rumors.

Now Zippy's back in charge.

Maybe Greg Zipadelli won't be back atop the pit box for Stewart, but they'll be working more closely together than most drivers and directors of competition otherwise would since Smoke owns half of the team. And it's not like Steve Addington, the new crew chief for the No. 14, is a stranger, since he worked at Joe Gibbs Racing from 2005-2008.

As director of competition, or if you prefer, "competition director," Zipadelli will be running all three Stewart-Haas teams. That includes tailoring the new No. 10 ride specifically for Danica Patrick, whose crossover from the world of open-wheel racing has been covered by the media at least as much as any other event in the history of NASCAR. Unless Silly Season strikes again, Zippy will be on that bright green pit box at Daytona.

Zipadelli's take on filling in as crew chief for Patrick? "I'm here to help this team grow in anything that I can do. I'm looking forward to it. I think it'll be fun, it'll be exciting, and like I said, it gives me a little bit of the‑‑ helps with the withdrawal as far as being on that box. The races are spread out throughout the year, so that'll be good. It shouldn't take a whole lot away from the things I'm trying to learn and help with over here on a daily basis."

After 10 seasons as crew chief for the consistently outspoken and often controversial Tony Stewart, Greg Zipadelli definitely has experience in handling the pressure of performing under the spotlight that will undoubtedly shine on the No. 10 team. Regardless of the number of races he calls for her, Patrick will have the benefit of the only crew chief outside of Chad Knaus who has more than one Cup championship under his belt. In fact, of active crew chiefs, only Jimmy Fennig, Knaus and Darian Grubb have ever won a Cup championship. Of those, only Knaus has won more than one, so Zipadelli is in an elite group. For more on Zippy as interim crew chief, read Rebecca Kivak's article here.

What else does the addition of Zipadelli to SHR bring to the 14, 39 and 10 teams, other than the obvious experience? Chemistry. Smoke and Zippy had one of the longest-running and most successful driver-crew chief relationships in the Cup garage (Winston, Nextel, AND Sprint) and while Zipadelli won't be calling the shots for Stewart each week, his overall influence will be felt on each team.

Steve Addington will be calling those shots, and in regard to potential chemistry with Stewart, Zipadelli said, "Steve is a cool cat. He's a hard worker. He's a very, very good friend of mine. So I respect him a lot. I've worked with him in the past. He's won a bunch of races, so there's not a doubt about his ability or the things that he can do with a race car, preparing one. I think it'll just be a little bit of them getting to know each other. "

What about Stewart? Zippy and Smoke were notorious for their communication. "I think Tony has certainly matured a lot as far as the way he is with people. Listening to him the last couple years on the radio, completely different than what I had for 10 years, so hopefully some of those long days of screaming at each other and trying to help each other and learn and grow, he obviously has accepted the responsibility of an owner and a driver in the way he deals with those things, so I think that's going to help Steve a lot, and I think we're looking for great things from those two."

When Stewart left JGR to form Stewart-Haas, most expected Zippy to go too, but he felt his obligations to JGR outweighed his friendship with Stewart. As recently as June, USA Today reported that Zipadelli still had two years left on his contract. What brought Zippy off the pit box at Joe Gibbs Racing now, when he would most likely have been able to finish his career there in one capacity or another?

Zipadelli said, "Well, you know, everybody in my position I think when they're done crew-chiefing looks to say, okay, what's the next step in your career, and this is it to me." With no aspirations to be an owner, "This was my next step. It was a few years earlier than I wanted to as far as quitting (being) a crew chief, but when good opportunities come around, you have to make decisions."

He went on to explain, "The biggest thing is it's a new challenge. I've always been the type of person that I like the next‑‑ what's next, the next challenge, and I've had a great run at Joe Gibbs Racing. This position had been talked about there (at JGR) but wasn't going to be available for a while, and when I looked at it, I said, here's one now for the only person in the sport that I would probably go to work for at this time in my career. Tony has always been very good to me, and that was it. I weighed those things out, and right now the opportunity was there. Would it be there again?  I don't know. So it kind of just worked out."

During Zipadelli's post-announcement teleconference, Skirts and Scuffs' Amanda Ebersole asked how much his past history with Stewart, working with Addington and the JGR reunion factor affected his decision to accept the position with Stewart‑Haas.

Zippy replied, "My relationship with Tony and Eddie and Brett was huge for me. I mean, there's obviously a comfort zone, and it's a big part of life today. You're comfortable with people, you trust people.  It gave me a great opportunity here, and hopefully I won't let them down."

Zippy's Back In Charge Zippy's Back In Charge Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, December 18, 2011 Rating: 5