Stewart-Haas Racing Media Conference
Topics: Stewart-Haas Racing
December 16, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us on today's teleconference. I know it was somewhat short notice, but nonetheless, we have Greg Zipadelli here, the newly announced director of competition for Stewart‑Haas Racing. Greg has 34 wins as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief, 33 of which came with Tony Stewart between 1999 and 2008 while the two were at Joe Gibbs Racing. Stewart, of course, left following the 2008 season to form Stewart‑Haas Racing. Zipadelli stayed and picked up another win with Joey Logano in 2008.
Greg, congratulations on the promotion to director of competition, and to quote "The Blues Brothers," sounds like we're getting the band back together.
GREG ZIPADELLI: It's not always a bad thing. I'm very excited about the opportunity. I've had a great 13‑plus years at Joe Gibbs Racing, great family. This was a great opportunity for myself and my family.
Q. Zippy, is one of your big jobs right now to get the 10 team kind of put together and is there any chance that you would end up crew chiefing that at least for the 500?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Yeah, I think that is the plan now. I mean, I will start immediately as soon as this afternoon, working on putting some of those pieces together. I know Matt Borland has done a really good job of keeping that going already, so they're not behind. And as far as Daytona, yes, Daytona test and Daytona 500, right now it looks like I'll be there to do that and just see‑‑ most important is that we find the right person long‑term for that position.
Q. And when would kind of the target date for that be? Any idea when you would want to have that person in?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I think honestly, if it takes until the end of the year to make sure we look at everybody that's going to be available either now or coming available at the end of the year‑‑ really see who that person is that fits with the other crew chiefs, fits into Stewart‑Haas's, under their umbrella and the mold and the way they like to do things, that's important is finding that right person. We'll take as much time as we need.
Q. I was wondering, you've been with JGR so long. Did you have any trepidation about leaving? People kind of get real comfortable, and maybe taking that next step is a harder decision to make. And what appealed to you about this job? How much time on the road do you think that you will spend?
GREG ZIPADELLI: It was very hard to make the decision. In fact, when you are comfortable, like you said, over‑‑ we spent over 13 years and a lot of friends and family that worked there, a lot of people that were there to support me over the years. Those are really hard things to look at, and I had to weigh all that out, and the closer it got, the harder it was.
I would say that I was as secure or more secure than most people in the sport where I was to have the opportunity to work there the rest of my life. That's something that everybody dreams about. You know, as far as‑‑ this is an opportunity, I think, for the next step in my life. I'm young, but I ran hard as a crew chief, as far as been doing it a lot of years, even before I got to this level, a lot of time, missed a lot of my family. I think this is going to give me‑‑ not a lot, but it's going to give me 10 percent more time with my family, a little bit more flexibility to do some of the things that I enjoy to do.
And 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 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.
Q. I'm going to piggy‑back on something you just said. You said that you would take this position for the only other guy out there that you would go to work for. I wonder if you could talk about you've seen the good and the bad of Tony. You've probably witnessed the great of his amazing win this year and that race at Homestead. What is it about your relationship with him that would entice you to come back for another run in a different position?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, I just believe we've always had a unique relationship where I think we've just really, truly respected each other. We can be very honest with each other and not worry about hurting each other's feelings. I trust and believe in him as much as I do anybody else on this earth, and I think there's similar feelings. I can't speak for him, but I assume through our conversations and things, that's part of the reason why he worked so hard to try to get us back together even though it's in a different role. I think he knows I'll always have his back, and he can just concentrate on racing.
Q. Quick follow‑up, what do you think of what Tony has been able to put together over at Stewart‑Haas Racing so far?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Oh, I think it's awesome. You know, that's what this sport needs. He's given a lot of people hope and the ultimate in fulfilling a dream, you know? I'm glad and honored to be able to be part of that.
Q. I don't pay a lot of attention to contracts, that's your business, but was your‑‑ what was the situation at Gibbs as far as your contract? Were you done, at the end of it? Were you released to come over to this position at Stewart‑Haas?
GREG ZIPADELLI: We spent a lot of time talking about it, and what was right for me, what was right for Joe Gibbs Racing, and we finally came to a mutual agreement.
Q. How long has this position been on your radar screen?
GREG ZIPADELLI: 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. I have no intentions or‑‑ as an owner, and some people have gone that route and been successful. For me this was my next step. It was a few years earlier than I wanted to as far as quitting to be a crew chief, but when good opportunities come around, you have to make decisions. I'm looking forward to the future I have here.
Q. And finally, to what degree does working as Danica's crew chief make the transition from atop the box to an administrative role easier for you?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, it's going to help me that I know I'm going to get to do a couple races and be actively involved in getting her cars built and getting some people hired, kind of putting that group together. So it'll‑‑ I think it'll help me wean myself from that passion and daily fire of the fire drills that you go through as a crew chief to moving into the new position. I think it's just going to‑‑ it won't be such a culture shock to me, I think.
Q. You noted a moment ago about the mutual respect that you and Tony have more one another. It almost seems brotherly. For those of us that live in that garage, you definitely seem to have lost a bit of pep in your step over the last couple of years since you guys weren't together. What was that void like for you? You experienced so much success together and then you're kind of starting over with a younger driver. What was that void like for you to not be in competition with Tony?
GREG ZIPADELLI: You know, obviously when you spend that much time with somebody, like you said, we have respect, and you know if you give him what he needs, you're going to have a shot at winning that day. You know, there's no greater feeling than that anywhere in the world to me, when you show up and you've got that competitive spirit about you, knowing that you've got everything together, you've just got to put the puzzle together for that day and you'll have an opportunity to challenge for a win.
I enjoyed my time with Joey very much. It was challenging, it was a different role, completely different style than what I've had to do in the past. He's an amazing young kid, has a lot of talent, and he just needs to keep working at it and learning some of this stuff.
And I think from the time he came over, I think there was an amazing amount of weight put on that kid to try and fill those shoes, which those are shoes that just don't get filled, Tony Stewart, and we tried really hard to just not make him feel like those are the things he had to do. He had plenty of time to grow and mature and learn the sport and that. I think as long as I was there and my group was there, there was still something about that, you know? I believe that he's got an opportunity, he's got this year left, that he's got a great opportunity to prove himself with a completely different level of expectations, and I think you'll see him blossom a lot more this year just because of that.
Q. You've raced against Stewart‑Haas for three years now. Going over there, what do you see as the strengths of the team, the weaknesses of the team, and what do you see your biggest challenge with them being?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, I think they've got a lot of strengths of very solid drivers, you know what I mean? Arguably Tony is one of the best that may have ever come through the sport as far as I'm concerned and I think a lot of others. I think they have the backing of Hendrick Motorsports, which obviously speaks for itself. I think as far as that goes, they have obviously all the tools in place. I think they've got to go through some growing pains with adding this new team as far as those are just the things that take time, people and energy to put together. The good thing is it's going to be a limited deal as the team grows, and if opportunity arises, I'm sure down the road it'll grow again. Those will be some of the growing pains of just actually physically growing, becoming more independent and being able to stand on their own two feet, you know what I mean?
Those are exciting things for me of trying to help that, orchestrate that over the next few years. You know, obviously they've won championships. It's obviously a very solid organization.
Q. Two questions: Talk a little bit about Steve Addington taking over as Tony's crew chief. He's going to kind of be the guy that's in charge. You've had that role before. Talk about his personality and Tony's personality, the dynamic there that can kind of take what they've already got and move forward.
GREG ZIPADELLI: 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.
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 ten 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.
Q. As far as getting yelled and screamed at, I'm sure there's kind of a Kurt Busch term for that‑‑
GREG ZIPADELLI: He's got very thick skin, we know that.
Q. The second part of the question is being on top of the pit box with Danica for Daytona, I mean, you know there's just going to be so much attention placed on her first Cup race, especially being the biggest NASCAR race of the year. I mean, in a lot of ways it's got to be an enviable position but also a position that can be quite difficult.
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, when we talked about this, this wasn't part of it. They got through it and they thought about it and they asked if this was something that I would do, and here's the deal: 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.
With that being said, to me I'm just looking at it as, hey, it's a good 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.
Q. Given all the changes in the crew chiefs and drivers for the 2012 season, isn't team chemistry one of the biggest unknowns next year?
GREG ZIPADELLI: For sure. I mean, you look at everything that's been mixed up this year, everybody is looking for that magic, and that's what happens, I think, with the stress and pressure of making the Chase and the way sponsorships are looked at today, if you don't make the Chase. Everybody is making a lot more changes, a lot more rapid than what we've seen in the past. It's just a product of our sport and how important it is to perform.
Q. Do you feel adjusting to‑‑ you mentioned challenges that you look forward to. Do you feel adjusting to new personnel, is that usually your biggest challenge?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, absolutely. Even in the place you're at, personnel and people are always your‑‑ you know, your biggest challenge, I think, on a day‑to‑day basis. You try and get a large group of people together to pull on the rope all at the same time. They all have different attitudes, different things that motivate them, and you've got to try to work those things together.
Q. You're going to be back with Chevrolet again. Is that a plus? Is there a comfort zone kind of factor in that for you?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, I mean, obviously that's where we had a lot of our success. You know, it's a great organization. My comfort comes from being back with Tony and Eddie and the people that I spent a lot of my life with. They're kind of like family to me. I mean, that's where my comfort comes from. All the manufacturers, they do a tremendous job today as far as supporting the race teams. The last couple years it's been fun to meet a lot of people from Toyota and things and see how they do things and learn from that.
But yeah, it always feels good to be back home, and that's kind of what I consider home.
Q. You'll also be working pretty closely with the Hendrick operation. Is that a plus? Are you looking forward to that?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Oh, absolutely. Any time you have those resources to be able to pull from and the minds that they have over there, the people that they have over there, that's extremely intriguing. They've been very successful over the years, and I'm looking forward to their help and support.
Q. Just wanted to ask you more about the Danica situation. As the guy who helped Tony ease through the transition from IndyCar to stock car racing, how will that experience, 13 or so years ago, impact your assisting Danica through that same transition next year?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, I hope just the things that I've learned over the years, the patience and the things that I've had to‑‑ going through those transitions, we'll be able to pull from those things. I think Tony is going to‑‑ and Ryan are going to be able to help her way more with that. They've actually experienced it and felt it and been through a lot of that stuff, and as far as that goes, she couldn't have two better teachers, you know?
Q. I wanted to ask you, there have been like seven different crew chief changes since the off‑season. You kind of addressed it a little bit, but obviously there have been cycles where we've seen a lot of changes. Is this a greater change do you feel like? Is the lifespan of the crew chief becoming shorter? Or how has that position and the challenges evolving with that and maybe why are we seeing so many changes?
GREG ZIPADELLI: The lifespan of a crew chief, I think it's as long as you perform. That's what it's come to today. Like I said earlier, I think a lot of sponsors are putting a lot of pressure, and deservedly so, on making the Chase and how important it is for that and to challenge for a championship, and I think the way the sport is and the way the season is in two parts, it's important. There's a lot of pressure on you the first 26 to make the Chase and then there's a ton to perform in it, you know? That's just where the sport has gone. I think it's made it exciting, but I think it has added to a lot of the reason for a lot of the turnover over the years. You know what I mean? That's all part of it in the big picture, you know what I mean?
Q. If this was your first year coming in as a crew chief, with the way things are now, could you imagine, do you think anybody can go 13 years? I know you say it's as long as you perform, but for somebody to be at one place or for somebody to do this 13 years or so, are there going to be many of those, or is a great crew chief career going to be eight to ten years or something like that?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I think it's a lot harder today to do it than it was when I started, and I'm sure if you asked the people that were here before me, the same thing. I think it's just the travel, the races, the intensity of the things that go on today, from just the Chase and having to make it and those things. It's hard, and like I said, the expectations of making the Chase by sponsors, by those things, it's a big deal, and it puts a lot of pressure to perform at a high level all the time.
Q. How much did your past history with Tony Stewart and also working with Steve Addington and kind of a JGR reunion factor into your decision to accept the position with Stewart‑Haas?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, 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.
Q. One more quick follow‑up on Danica. Have you spoken with her yet? Have you had a chance to talk, and is the team going to transfer the 14 owner points to her car so she's guaranteed to make the 500?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I don't have a lot to add to that right now. I have not talked to her. This is all‑‑ like I said, this has been talked about, but it really all just kind of happened in the last 48 hours or so as far as happening. A lot of that stuff we'll talk about today and we'll move forward with it. As a matter of fact, I just pulled in here, so I'm ready to go to work. I'm excited about it.
As far as all those details, I know they've been working on some things. I don't believe anything is etched in stone yet.
Q. Danica told me recently in an ESPN Magazine interview that she was very, very confident she would be the first woman driver to ever win in NASCAR, first female driver. What attributes do you see in her that make you believe that she could actually do that?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I think she has the‑‑ from what I see from the outside, I haven't spent any time with her, talking to Tony and why he kind of agreed to do this is she's got more determination than most people. I mean, she has confidence in her ability. I think she's proven that in the past. The big thing about it is the want and the desire, and that seems to be there without any question at all.
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