Zipadelli, SHR navigating 'emotional roller coaster'
August 25, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
MORE: Complete coverage of Tony Stewart incident
Tony Stewart missed his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this past weekend, and Greg Zipadelli doesn't know when his driver, and close friend, will be back behind the wheel.
UPDATE: Stewart to return at Atlanta
In the meantime, Stewart's No. 14 team Stewart-Haas Racing team continues to prepare for each week's race. Maybe for the three-time Sprint Cup champion, maybe for another driver such as Jeff Burton, the driver of record for the group these past two weekends during Stewart's absence. Regan Smith filled in for the team at Watkins Glen.
"It's just an emotional roller coaster all week, you know what I mean?" Zipadelli said after Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. "It is what it is.
"We do the best we can with what we've got right now. We'll keep praying, keep our fingers crossed that we get the boss back sooner rather than later."
Stewart has not competed in a Sprint Cup race since Aug. 3 when he finished 36th at Pocono Raceway. Less than a week later, on Aug. 9, driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed when he was struck by Stewart's winged sprint car during an event at Canandaigua (New York) Motorsports Park.
An investigation by the Ontario County (New York) Police Department is on-going.
Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief for a decade when the two were paired at Joe Gibbs Racing, is vice president of competition at SHR, and oversees the operation of the No. 14 entry as well as the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick, the No. 10 of Danica Patrick and the No. 41 of Kurt Busch.
Burton, winner of 21 Sprint Cup races and headed to NBC Sports in 2015, finished 15th at BMS after running in the top 10 for much of the second half of the race.
Damage to the front end of his car eventually negated a shrewd pit call that put him fourth in the running order. It was a better result than the previous week when a broken tail pipe was the culprit for a 37th-place finish, but a missed opportunity as well.
"They ran 10th to 15th basically all night," Zipadelli said of the team. "They're still learning each other; got that damage and killed the grille and that got them behind a little bit there and didn't realize it on that long, green flag run and lost a lot of spots."
Burton's experience and his demeanor have been a big help as the team has worked its way through these past few weeks, according to Zipadelli.
"He's been so calm and cool, and getting these guys as much good feedback as he can," he said. "You couldn't ask for a better guy to get in the car.
"It's big shoes to fill, you know? He did a really nice job, he's done a really classy job the last couple of weeks and that's what we needed.
"This team needed that, somebody that would be there for them and work through these tough times."
Stewart missed the final 15 races of the 2013 season after suffering a broken leg while competing in a sprint car race in Iowa. He returned to NASCAR competition in February.