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Zipadelli to crew chief for Patrick in Daytona 500

December 16, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. -- Crew chief leaves JGR No. 20 and moves to SHR as competition director

Greg Zipadelli, who won two Cup Series championships and 34 races in 13 years at Joe Gibbs Racing, in the last 48 hours negotiated a release from his JGR contract that allows him to join Stewart-Haas Racing as its competition director, a role that will include working as Danica Patrick's crew chief in her Sprint Cup Series debut in the 2012 Daytona 500.

In fact Zipadelli, 44, who admitted knowing an administrative role was probably in his future, though "this was probably a few years earlier than I wanted to as far as quitting to be a crew chief," said he would gently transition by probably serving as Patrick's crew chief in all 10 of her planned 2012 Cup starts -- for sure at the Daytona test Jan. 12-14 and Patrick's Speedweeks events.

"There's obviously a comfort zone that's a big part of life today. You're comfortable with people, you trust people and [Stewart] gave me a great opportunity here and hopefully I won't let him down."

--GREG ZIPADELLI

"The most important [thing] is that we find the right person, long-term, for that position [and] we'll take as much time as we need," Zipadelli said. "Honestly, I think if it takes 'til the end of the year to make sure we look at everybody that's gonna be available, either now or coming available at the end of the year; to really see who that person is that fits with the other crew chiefs, fits under the Stewart-Haas umbrella, the mold in which they like to do things is important to find that right person."

Zipadelli said working with Patrick wasn't on the table initially, but quickly moved to a front burner.

"When we talked about [moving to Stewart-Haas], [working with Patrick] wasn't part of it," Zipadelli said. "But when we got through, they thought about it and asked if this was something I would do. I'm here to help this team grow in anything that I can do.

"I'm looking forward to it and I think it'll be fun and exciting and like I said, it helps me a little with the withdrawals of not being on that [pit] box. The races are spread out throughout the year so that'll be good and it shouldn't take a lot away from the things I'm trying to learn."

Zipadelli said he had yet to speak with Patrick and would immediately begin working on such issues as filling her crew and determining if the owner points Tony Stewart accrued with the championship No. 14 Chevrolet would transfer to Patrick's No. 10, making it a guaranteed Daytona 500 starter.

"I will start immediately putting some of those pieces together," Zipadelli said. "Though I know [vice president of competition] Matt Borland has done a really good job of keeping that going, so they're not behind."

Zipadelli, a Berlin, Conn., native with a winning legacy leading teams at every level he's raced, said "it was very hard to make the decision. When you are comfortable -- when you spend over 13 years -- there are a lot of friends and family that work [at JGR], that have supported me over the years and those are really hard things to look at. I had to weigh all that out."

Zipadelli was paired with Stewart in 1999 when JGR formed its second Cup team, after "Zippy" won championships in a couple New England-based NASCAR touring series. He and Stewart won championships in 2002 and 2005 before Stewart left to form SHR with co-owner Gene Haas for the 2009 season. Zipadelli remained with the No. 20 Toyota, working with Joey Logano, and they won Logano's first career Cup victory, as a rookie, in 2009 at New Hampshire.

"The closer [making a decision] got, the harder it was [but] when good opportunities come around, you have to make decisions and I'm looking forward to the future I have here," Zipadelli said. "I would say I was as secure -- more secure -- than most people in the sport at where I was and to have an opportunity to work there for the rest of my life. And that's something that everybody dreams about."

But he added that his relationship with Stewart, who he said in his opinion was one of the best drivers in the sport's history and with whom he spent 10 seasons "was huge for me."

"There's obviously a comfort zone that's a big part of life today. You're comfortable with people, you trust people and [Stewart] gave me a great opportunity here and hopefully I won't let him down.

"The biggest thing is this was a new challenge. I've always been the type of person that, I like the next -- 'what's next' -- the next challenge. I've had a great run at Joe Gibbs Racing. This position had been talked about there but it 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.'

"Would [the opportunity] be there again? I didn't know, and it's all worked out."

Some of the exchanges between Zipadelli and the vitriolic Stewart through the years are legendary, but the crew chief said one key thing had always been at the base of their relationship.

"I just think we've always had a unique relationship where we've just truly respected each other," Zipadelli said. "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 from him -- though I can't speak for him.

"I assume from my conversations with him that's why he worked so hard to get us back together, even though it's in a different role. He knows I'll always have his back and he can just concentrate on racing. It's awesome [what Stewart's assembled at SHR] and it's what this sport needs, to give people hope and the ultimate in fulfilling a dream. I'm glad and honored to be a part of that."

Stewart voiced an equivalent emotion in his team's release announcing the move.

"We're very proud to have Greg Zipadelli join Stewart-Haas Racing," Stewart said. "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.

"We took our time in searching for a competition director because it's an important role with a lot of responsibility. Greg knows all that goes into the job, understands the importance of teamwork and communication across all levels of the organization and is ultimately someone I have a great deal of trust in."