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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Zipadelli made right move by staying with Gibbs

No one was surprised when Tony Stewart announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season to become partial owner of the newly named Stewart-Haas Racing.

But one major question remained -- would his longtime crew chief Greg Zipadelli go with him and stay loyal to his driver, or would he stay loyal to Joe Gibbs, the team owner who has given him the opportunity for so much success in NASCAR.

Wisely, he chose Gibbs, and his future will be much brighter as a result.

It was probably tempting to leave. The decade Zippy and Smoke spent together was very successful, with their combined efforts netting more than 30 wins, and two Cup championships.

But looking to the future, Zipadelli saw the writing on the wall. The effort to rebuild the downright terrible team formerly known as Haas-CNC Racing into a winning stable will likely be a long and difficult process. Even with talented drivers (Stewart will likely partner with Ryan Newman) and big-time sponsors coming aboard with multimillion dollar deals, the team will be essentially starting from the bottom.

Meanwhile, over at Gibbs, Zipadelli is on a team that’s the undisputed kind of NASCAR right now, currently dominating last year's dominators at Hendrick Motorsports. Better yet, teenage phenom Joey Logano will likely be the driver of that #20 car next season. If Logano is anywhere near as good as he’s indicated he can be, 10 years from now Zippy might end up with more wins working with Logano that he got pairing with Stewart.

I’m sure Stewart understands this, and there are no hard feelings. Working together for so long no doubt makes the separation hard. (Stewart said in the press conference that Zipadelli knows him “better than most of my girlfriends”) But Tony also knows business is business, and he no doubt recognizes that Zipadelli has much more chance to succeed at Gibbs than with his upstart organization.

If Smoke can manage some wins with the new team, I’m sure Zippy will be the first to congratulate him. And the first time Logano brings a Sprint Cup car to Victory Lane, Tony will likely do the same.


Rookies a huge disappointment
After this year’s disappointing rookie class, it will be nice to see Logano’s likely entrance into the Cup series next year. This year’s illustrious class includes Regan Smith, Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Michael McDowell and Dario Franchitti, who have combined to do a big pile of nothing. The best points position for any of them is 33rd, just barely inside the line for a guaranteed starting spot. Not one of them has a top 10 finish all season.

Franchitti already lost his ride. McDowell and Smith are basically field-fillers and likely won’t return to their teams next year. Carpentier and Hornish have shown flashes of ability, and should probably get one more year to try to prove themselves. But overall, it’s been a hugely disappointing year for the first-timers.

Kvapil overachieving
The impressive efforts of Travis Kvapil in an underfunded Yates Racing car has earned him a sponsor for six of the remaining races this season. Trouble late in the race at Joliet dropped him to 21st in the standings, but early in the race he was running pretty well. He’s had some impressive finishes this year in less-than-spectacular equipment, and at one point was closer to the top 15 in points.

Once a Truck series champion, Kvapil has talent and I’m curious to see what he could do if given the kind of quality car the big stars get to drive each week. I’m not saying he’d make the Chase, but he might be right on the cusp.

Aussie alert
Australian driver will make the jump to Cup with the JTG Racing team, which will be partly owned by NASCAR announcer and former NBA player Brad Daugherty. Ambrose is a road course ace, but has yet to prove he can compete regularly on ovals (let’s call it “the Boris Said problem”). We’ll see next year whether he can make the transition.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think after you see what two front line drivers in good equipment will mean next year at Stewart Haas Racing it will amaze all the cynics. We shall see how Zippy gets along with a young driver learning the business (the Cup is a whole different animal than winning one race in Nationwide) compared to one that has driven successfully and won in anything with four wheels. All that can be said with Zippy not making the move is that JGR is a good place to work (we knew that already), he was under contract (we knew that already) and chances that Joe sweetened the deal after Tony made noises he was moving on we can assume. Tony Stewart is not like any team owner/driver the sport has seen anytime within the last 25 years he's not over the hill, he has a great business sense, he can attract sponsors, and has an agreement in place with Hendricks so all the development headaches will not be there. I would hazard a guess his next crew chief might be the one that has had some degree of success in the Nationwide series this year. Racing success runs in cycles last year it was HMS this year up until now it's been JGR and it might be someone else's next year. All that can be said is Zippy made the safe call in the short run maybe whether it's the right move move remains to be seen on the track.

July 17, 2008 at 7:57 AM 

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