As far as pinch hitters go, Chase Briscoe couldn’t have asked for much better than Greg Zipadelli.
Briscoe’s Sunday drive to victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway came without crew chief Richard Boswell, one of three Stewart-Haas Racing crew members suspended for a ballast violation on the No. 98 Ford. The infraction occurred during pace laps before Saturday’s first race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series weekend doubleheader.
With less than 24 hours from the checkered flag to the next green to find a suitable substitute, the team inserted Zipadelli — SHR’s competition director — for his first NASCAR national series crew chief effort since 2013. Zipadelli shook off any notion of rust, and the move clicked.
“To me, honestly, I haven’t done it in so long. It was fun,” Zipadelli said. “Especially because of the circumstances. I felt good that I could help this young group of guys out and be here to help them today. I love this team and Chase. It is such a good group of talented younger guys that work their guts out. It is just fun to be a small part of it today.”
Zipadelli said he made significant adjustments Sunday to get the No. 98 to his and Briscoe’s liking. The car showed strength in Saturday’s opener as the team rallied from a six-lap deficit after the ballast repairs to score a seventh-place finish, back on the lead lap. The result Sunday was Briscoe’s series-leading third Xfinity triumph of the season.
But the pairing also marked a full-circle trip for Briscoe, who grew up rooting for Tony Stewart, now the co-owner of his cars. Two of Stewart’s three NASCAR Cup Series championships came with Zipadelli atop the pit box; Zipadelli retired from full-time crew chief duties in 2011.
“It is cool for me growing up a diehard Tony Stewart fan. I was a big Zippy fan, too,” said Briscoe, who led 11 laps and outdueled all challengers in two overtime attempts. “I hate the circumstances it is under, but it was truthfully really cool for me to be able to work with Zippy and to win was really special, too. I don’t know what the plan is for the next three weeks, but we are off to a good start. We need to just continue to do that.”
Saturday’s penalty came with four-race suspensions for Boswell, car chief Nick Hutchins and engineer DJ Vanderley, which will force the team to make provisions for the series’ next three events — starting with Saturday’s stop at Talladega Superspeedway.
Whether that means another pinch-hit performance for Zipadelli, he wasn’t sure — at least not in the immediate aftermath of his first NASCAR national-series win since 2009.
“To be honest, we haven’t looked that far ahead. I will do whatever it takes,” Zipadelli said. “We will have to go home and kind of regroup and see who we have resource-wise and what works best for the Cup side and the Xfinity side. I will be there to help, but I am not sure if I will do it all. We just have to wait and see.”