Thoughts from Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix WHAT IS YOUR PREDICTION FOR THIS WEEKEND AT INDY? "I was happy with our test. We spent two days there kind of doing things that we normally wouldn' t do - a lot of...
Thoughts from Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix
WHAT IS YOUR PREDICTION FOR THIS WEEKEND AT INDY?
"I was happy with our test. We spent two days there kind of doing things that we normally wouldn' t do - a lot of things that we don't have time to do at the racetrack because of the hectic schedule. We felt like we learned a bunch. When we finally went out and made a long 30-lap run, Tony [Stewart] was real happy with the car. It was the best one that I think we've ever had at Indy, as far as balance. It was a hot, slick day. "We're looking forward to it. I'm excited. With somebody like Tony and the group of guys that I've got working with me, we go to every racetrack honestly, truly expecting to win. If we can't, we do the best we can. That is something pretty exciting to have that feeling, to be able to say that we have as good a shot as anybody else. "I think you'll see the Dodges run better. They surely ought to. Whether it will make that big of a difference to where they're dominant - I don't know. That will just be a 'wait and see.' If it is, this will be the place it will show up."
ARE YOU AND TONY STEWART OPPOSITES WITH REGARD TO YOUR PERSONALITIES?
"I think in a lot of ways I'm a carbon copy of him. I've just learned to control my emotions and not show them on the outside. I'm one of those people that holds everything in. I'm probably as mad or frustrated with a lot of things, but at the same time it's my job - I've got 17 or 18 people standing there in the pits that support the '20' car and a driver - as a leader, if I don't do those things, then I'm not setting a good example for the rest of my people on how they need to act. It's a requirement in this sport today. It's just the way things are going. I look at it and take it as my responsibility to accept these things and do the best I can with them. Sometimes it's hard. But, I think I've been doing a good job at it and I'm going to work hard at it."
DOES TONY LOOK TO YOU AS A CALMING FIGURE?
"I think depending on the circumstances it works both ways. There are some times when he'll come back, he'll be upset and this and that. I'll close the door, tell him how I feel and he'll look at me and say, 'That's why you do this.' Then there are other times where he doesn't agree with it, but he knows what we need to do - that we need to move on and put it behind us. The sooner we do that, the better we're going to be next week."
WHY DO YOU WORK SO WELL WITH JIMMY MAKAR?
"I think it comes back to me doing my job and Jimmy doing his job. When we put it together and I was asked to come over [to Joe Gibbs Racing] and start the '20' car, Jimmy said, 'This is how I want it to work.' He had this vision and I agreed to work by that. As much as they've helped us, I think we've been able to turn around and help the '18' car in the same way because of our openness. I don't think it can happen and work at every place. It's probably more work to do it this way because you can't let things bet between you. A lot of those things that come in the sport, you've got to just leave them outside in the morning when you come to work. If you need to know something, you go ask him or vice versa. If they're running good, I'm the first one over there to get what they've got and vice versa. Our goal is to run first and second every week. Our dream is for one of us to win the championship and the other one finish second. How much better could that be? In order to do that, that's the way we have to work. I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to come over here and work with somebody like Jimmy Makar that has the leadership that he has, and the experience and the years that he has been in Winston Cup racing. It's helped me tremendously to just look across from my office and see the way he handles things and be able to absorb a lot of those things. A lot of them come from experience. I've been put in a position where there is a lot of experience and a lot of good people around here - Bobby Labonte, Jimmy Makar, Todd Meredith - some of the people that have been here since it started have helped me a bunch."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE DODGES THIS WEEK?
"I expect that if they ran as good as they did at Pocono last weekend, they should run that much better at Indy. It's going to be that much tougher, probably, for us with our cars than anybody else. But if that's what they felt they needed to be competitive, so be it. I guess, we're in that predicament. Hopefully it will come back to us. It's frustrating because I think those teams and those drivers have already run better than they have in the past. When they went to Daytona and ran well, they had worked harder. Why aren't they working harder on their downforce stuff? It's frustrating, but I understand that everybody has to have a fair shot at winning. I expect them to be very good at these racetracks. Sterling [Marlin] has been outstanding all year. Those guys have worked hard it looks like over the winter and put a good team together and have been running good. I know the last two weeks it hasn 't shown, but prior to that they've been a top five or top 10 car every week. It will be tough, but it will make us work harder."
ARE YOU JUST GOING TO WAIT FOR THE RE-DESIGN OF THE GRAND PRIX NOW?
"I don't know. We're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place with a car that is so old and not as efficient as some of these new cars. I don't know what we do. There are some discussions about things, to see if we can get some help to just make our car more efficient - maybe not necessarily have more downforce, just get some drag out of it and things like that that would put us where the other three manufacturers are, or we wait. I don't know. We're just going to have to kind of wait that out. There is not an easy fix. That's the problem. If it was an easy fix, like the Dodge - just giving them some nose - then I think it would be easy for us to go and plead our case. But the thing we're faced with is that there is really not an easy fix to it. It's just an old car and it needs to be revised and we're working on that now."
HAS TONY EVER COME TO YOU AND EXPRESSED A NEED FOR HIM TO CALM DOWN?
"No. Somebody that is as competitive and high-strung as him - we've been trying to work with him and get him to focus all that energy in a positive way. I stand by him in anything he has ever done or said. Most of the things that he has said or done are the truth and it's hard or it's his opinion. It's no different [than someone] writing an article saying that you don't like Tony Stewart. That's just your opinion, but it's OK for [the media] and it's not for him. It's hard, I think, for him to understand how everything works and look at it and see that he is in a different position. It may be his opinion, but sometimes you're better keeping them to yourself.
"But, my hat's off to him. He has done an unbelievable job in the two and a half years that I've worked with him - growing. With as many race fans and the responsibilities and the workload and the pressure that is here in Winston Cup to perform good every week and do the right thing every week, unless you're here in the position that I'm in or he's in - people don't have any idea what it's like today to come here, run competitively, have major sponsors like we have that expect us to run in the top five or top 10 every week, and then the pressure that you put on yourself to do that - it's huge. Unless you're here to experience it, I don't think there is any way of even explaining it."
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT TONY BEING AS COMPETITIVE IF HE MELLOWS A BIT PERSONALLY?
"I think it's just a matter of time. He's grown a bunch in the last two and a half years and I think he'll continue to grow. I know I grow every day, personally in dealing with certain situations. I don't think it's made me any less competitive of a person. I think sometimes it makes me more competitive because I'm not going to say the things that are there. I'm just going to go out and try to prove myself by just doing the best job I can week in and week out. I think he's getting there. You're not going to take the drive that Tony has and take it away from him. He's either going to be here in Winston Cup and do a phenomenal job week in and week out or he's not going to want to be here. I think he really wants to be here and he wants to be the best. He has the potential to be one of the best that this sport has ever seen because he has that inner drive and he's a great driver. But he has the personal part that is hard to get. You can' t take somebody that doesn't have it and try to give it to them. I'd rather try and calm him down a little bit. But, I think it's just going to be a little bit of time. I think he's finding that balance and I think he's doing a great job."
WHAT EFFECT HAS ALL THE TALK ABOUT HIS PERSONALITY HAD ON TONY?
"That's what probably frustrates himself more is that instead of writing the good things about what he's done in two and a half years in Winston Cup, all they do is want to look at and write the things that they don't agree with, that they think are bad. He's a person. He's human. He's got emotions and plenty of them. That's what makes him the person that he is. Instead of maybe looking at all the bad things that people think he did because that's their opinion, maybe they ought to focus on some of the good things and how good a person he really is inside a race car and outside a race car. He just has a lot of emotion and sometimes speaks his mind. I don't know. I was already brought up to, 'Work hard, be honest and say what's on your mind. Don't let people think bad things or good things about you. Tell them what you really think.' It's a tough balance in our sport right now. People are growing and some are maybe better at it than others. But, he's getting there and he's doing a great job."
HOW MUCH PRESSURE HAS THERE BEEN FROM HOME DEPOT?
"They've been great. They're a phenomenal sponsor. They are a very aggressive company. They love Joe Gibbs Racing and the '20' car for what they are. We have maybe stuck out a little bit with Tony's reputation for being aggressive in a lot of areas - on the racetrack and off the racetrack - and they have, too. We' ve just got to make sure that we keep control and don't do something that would hurt our relationship down the road. But they've been great and supportive of everything that is going on because, like I said, there are two sides to every story. If you look at both sides of it, there is really nothing wrong with any of the things that were ever said or done."
"You can go out and do 100 good things and never get a 'thank you' or a pat on the back. You do one bad thing or one thing that is maybe not 100 percent, and you're bound to get called on it. There are a ton of fans out there. I meet them every week. I meet them out at dinner. I meet them at the racetrack, leaving the racetrack and how many of them are supportive? At Pocono there were 65 or 70 of them hanging outside the garage the whole time we tore down. All they did was hoot and holler and want me and Joe [Gibbs] to come over and sign autographs for them. All they did was rant and rave about how they liked him (Tony Stewart) for who he was. They could relate to that as a person. But they're not the people that are writing the great letters and [the media isn't] taking them and putting them in the newspaper. You look at the bad thing because I guess it's more entertaining to people. It's our society, I guess. I don't think it's to blame on any one person. It's like that in a lot of areas. We just happen to realize what it's like in motorsports because that is what we're involved in."
DO YOU SEE TONY CHANNELING A LOT OF THAT ENERGY INTO HIS DRIVING AS OPPOSED TO WORRYING ABOUT HIS PUBLIC IMAGE?
"I think he has always put an awful lot of energy into his driving. I think he is just learning to accept the other part and the responsibility that comes along with representing a race team and a major company like Home Depot. All that is just a check and balance. You've just got to work through it. Some people are better at things than others. That may be one of the areas that he needs to work on. But like I said before, I think he is doing a great job with it."