GREG ZIPADELLI, CREW CHIEF, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: HOW ARE YOU MANAGING WITH ALL THE PRESSURE ON YOU RIGHT NOW? "There are struggles at times, because there is plenty of weight. That is one of those things that - I don't want to...
GREG ZIPADELLI, CREW CHIEF, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
HOW ARE YOU MANAGING WITH ALL THE PRESSURE ON YOU RIGHT NOW?
"There are struggles at times, because there is plenty of weight. That is one of those things that - I don't want to say 'enjoyed - but, been able to deal well with. There is just a lot on your plate. But, we're just going to take it one day at a time. We're going to continue to do the things that got us where we're at, head to Homestead and honestly, truly, try to win that race. I feel like we've got a driver that is more than capable. He loves that racetrack. Our cars and setups normally seem to work really well there. If we can and do that, we won't have to worry about the championship. It'll just happen."
THE FACT YOU TREAT TONY LIKE MORE THAN 'JUST A PIECE OF PROPERTY,' IS THAT PART OF YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE?
"Honestly, I think it was just the way I was brought up. You don't spend that much time with somebody, count on them, have them believe in you and have them trust in me without us being good friends. I particularly have not been in any situations where it was just a driver/that was it - 'Come in, do your job, weren't good friends, didn't work hard at just doing things that normal people would do.' I think that is just my personality, the way I was brought up. Truly, I think it is a huge asset to our team, that I'm not only a good friend to Tony, but all my guys are - whether it be fishing, go-kart riding, goofing around. We all have that relationship. I think when times get tough, sometimes it's easier to deal with some things because you're hanging out with friends. You're hanging out with people that you truly, honestly care about and love. I treat Tony, and think of him, as my brother."
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF TONY WHEN YOU MET HIM?
"I met with Jimmy [Makar} and Joe [Gibbs] and took the job here, and never talked to Tony - never met with him. We all kind of agreed to terms, signed the contract and Joe gave me Tony's number in Indy and I just called him and we talked one night for an hour or so. He was hanging out with some friends, playing pool at his house. The conversation went very easy. He seemed like pretty up beat, pretty fun. I knew a little about his past, just by what he had accomplished and saw all the series he had raced in and he had done well in. I believed that Joe and Jimmy were committing to winning and putting the best people that they thought together, so I had all my faith and trust in them that they were doing the right thing. Just for me to have that opportunity to talk to them for the job, never mind get it, was quite an honor to me. When we finally met and hung out and started doing some testing in January that year, he was pretty laid back, pretty fun and things went real easy. As time progressed or went on, the more and more pressure, I think, we put on ourselves and I think the outside did because the first year we had, we ran so good, the second year we won a bunch of races and then last year, having a shot at winning the championship and finishing second - people react different to different situations. I think that is when we've had the opportunity to really be able to grow a lot closer in the last year or two is just trying to deal with some of the situations that have come up."
IS IT ACCURATE TO SAY THAT TONY KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT HE CAN GET OUT OF HIS CAR ON A GIVEN DAY?
"Absolutely. That is something we've all learned about here in the last couple years. On some days like we had at Rockingham (finished 14th), I don't think this team has done a good job of making the best of a bad day. We've been capable of making a 'bad day' a 'worse day' because of emotions and things. That goes back on all of our parts - not just Tony. I think that is part of lack of our experience and a lack of both of us understanding the importance of just finishing in the top 10 or the top 15 every week - what that adds up to at the end of the year. That is one of the things we've struggled with the last three years. That's one of the things I think this team has done a lot better with this year. A lot of it goes to Tony just understanding more of that. We may be doing a better job with him on the radio as that day goes and us never giving up and just continuing to work harder on our car.
"Absolutely, he has done a great job adjusting to that."
HOW TOUGH WAS THE WEEK BETWEEN INDY AND WATKINS GLEN?
"In Winston Cup racing you're going to have a lot of tough weeks and that might have been this team's toughest week. But, we all sat and talked about it and thought long and hard about it and what got us to the point that we were at - a great part of that - was Tony. We all know him a lot better than everybody else because we know him outside this world and he is honestly and truly one of the best people I have gotten to know, hang out with, have fun with.
"When you have tough weeks like that and you know that something had just built up inside him - he was struggling with some things - it may have been easier for me when it was said and done to be able to look past some things and say, 'I know what he is really like. This is just a circumstance.' Now, that doesn't mean it's acceptable and we need to work harder at that and I think he has done a good job at that. Then, for all of us to be able to get together and go to Watkins Glen -- we had a test up there two weeks before that, tested well and was able to go back and put all that behind us. I think it just shows how strong this team is and how strong he is. That had to be an extremely mental week for him. He had to show up and focus on everything. Everybody was poking and prodding at him for all that had happened the week before. He handled it well, went on and did what he was supposed to do - get in that car, drive it to the best of his ability and did a great job for us."
HAS TONY BEEN MORE AGREEABLE WITH YOU THIS YEAR?
"We haven't had very many issue of disagreeing or not dealing with each other. That (Homestead last year) was a circumstance where we put a set of tires on that was absolutely horrendous and he wasn't looking at the big picture. I was. We were going to finish ninth, at worse, probably that day. He didn't want to run the next 18 or 20 laps - whatever that was - on them and came in. That was the first time we've had an incident like that and we did have to go to the tail end of the longest line, because we didn't use the access road. But, that is surely not something that has continued to happen. That was a situation where he (now) realizes the bigger picture.
"A top 10 that day would have locked us, probably, going into Loudon into second place, rather than beating him out by five or 15 points or whatever it was. Those are the things we look at more now is that when you make those decisions, you have to look at the big picture. We've always been good at just winning races and worrying about running good that day and not worrying about the big picture. In order to win a Winston Cup championship, you have to start the season by looking at that big picture and trying to do the right thing all the time to accumulate as many points as you can."