TONY STEWART: New Yankee Workshop ATLANTA (June 27, 2007) -- In 16 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, Tony Stewart has racked up two wins, six top-threes, nine top-fives, 10 top-10s and ...
New Yankee Workshop
ATLANTA (June 27, 2007) -- In 16 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, Tony Stewart has racked up two wins, six top-threes, nine top-fives, 10 top-10s and has led a total of 764 laps. And before Stewart became the regular pilot of Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet in 1999, he won an IRL IndyCar Series race at New Hampshire in 1998 after finishing second earlier that year in the NASCAR Busch Series race at the 1.058-mile oval.
Needless to say, Stewart has found a knack for navigating New Hampshire's tricky confines. But he hasn't done it alone. Much of Stewart's success has come under the watchful eye and calculating mind of crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
Zipadelli is a native of Berlin, Conn., and he built his racing resume by wrenching NASCAR Modified Tour cars and NASCAR Busch East Series cars to victory lane at the "Magic Mile." For Zipadelli, New Hampshire was his New Yankee Workshop, where he made the parts and pieces that propelled the likes of Mike Stefanik and Mike McLaughlin to New Hampshire's winner's circle before getting there with Stewart for his first New Hampshire win in July 2000.
Today, Stewart and Zipadelli enjoy the longest active driver/crew chief relationship in the Nextel Cup garage. And back on Zipadelli's home turf with this weekend's Lenox Industrial Tools 300, the tandem look to add to their history of rock-solid performances in the Granite State.
Explain a lap around New Hampshire.
"It's a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you've got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too -- trying to get the car to go forward. So, it's hard to get up off the corners. Then you've got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it's hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again."
So, is a fast lap all about throttle control?
"No, not necessarily. A lot of times when you get in the gas, you're able to stay in the gas. It's just a matter of having a good enough handling car to where you can get into the corner, roll through the center, and then get in the gas and stay in the gas when you do get back in the throttle."
While you've won at New Hampshire, you've also had races where you've struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you'd rather forget?
"If you miss on something it can be a miserable day. It seems like you don't see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That's what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It's just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front. It's not a situation you cringe at if you have a good driving car."
What are the key elements to a successful, long-term driver/crew chief relationship?
"I don't know. Greg and I just get along really well. We understand each other. I'm hard to get to understand sometimes, but with Zippy, even though we may not have raced in the same backgrounds, a lot of the things that have happened with us have been very similar. It's kind of like having a big brother that you learn from, whether it's stuff that goes on at the race track or away from the race track. I lean on him quite a bit. We both have the same passion and desire to win, and I think that's a pretty strong bond right there."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You're from Berlin, Conn., and you spent a lot of time working on race cars at New Hampshire International Speedway long before you returned to the track as a Nextel Cup crew chief. Considering your ties to the track and the area in general, do you put more pressure on yourself to run well there?
"Yes, because I love the race track. I always have. But I don't think that I want to win there any more or less than I do any other place."
When you do win there, does it feel like things have come full circle for you?
"Yes, absolutely. I think that it's a tough place to win at. There's not been a lot of winners. It's one of those deals where everything has to be good. Your car has to be good. Your pit stops have to be good. You're driver has got to be 'on.' That to me is what's exciting about it. It's kind of like road racing or racing at short tracks where it seems like there's a lot involved rather than just having a really fast car at Michigan or something like that."
When you go back to New Hampshire, do you look back and think about how far you've come in such a short amount of time? Or does it seem like things have progressed as you imagined they would?
"You really don't have much time to think about that stuff. I'm just thankful to be where I'm at. I'm enjoying what I do. I love what I did back then. I was fortunate to have some opportunities to move up and that's what you need. You need good opportunities. I think I did a good job when I was there doing the Busch North stuff and that's what allowed me to get the job and be where I am today."
Does your time spent in what is now known as the Busch East Series seem like eons ago, or does it seem like it was yesterday?
"Eleven years ago seems like a long time. At the pace we run today and the schedule we have, the places we go, the tests, and the amount of days we work, I almost can't remember a lot of it."
Do you feel like you're working in dog years?
"I'm pretty confident that I am."
How much has the sport changed since you were a crew chief in Busch East?
"There's no working on the car anymore. It's all paper. It's all meetings. It's dealing with people. It's planning. I still do set-up sheets and things of that nature, but I don't get much time to spend on the floor with what's going on. There's something that always seems like it's going on at Joe Gibbs Racing that I'm involved with, whether it be our future stuff, the other teams and things of that nature. We stay really busy when it comes to administrative-type stuff right now."
Is that just the nature of the beast nowadays?
"Yes. It's just time consuming. The problem is that there's so much that you have to do and we're going so much that when you are at the shop, you have to do the administrative stuff. If we had more time, I could spend more time on the car, but I've still got paper work, set-up sheets, meetings, planning, body builds, all that stuff that you have to do. Lately we've been home three days, sometimes two days because of testing, because of the rain, those types of things. You kind of adjust and count on other people to do the hands on stuff."
Speaking of tests, you tested at The Milwaukee Mile on June 12 to get ready for New Hampshire. Does Milwaukee have some of the same characteristics like New Hampshire? And because of long straightaways and tight corners, are you seeing some things that will be unique to the Car of Tomorrow?
"We were (running at Milwaukee) like we were in Phoenix when we ran decent all day. We had a new car (at the test). We built a new snout, so I just wanted to take it and make sure there was nothing different and it wouldn't react differently when we got to Loudon where we would be chasing something. We took the car we ran Martinsville with and the new car -- the car that we ran at Bristol and Darlington. It's a good car. We brought that to Milwaukee and that's what's going to be our primary. We just took it to run three-quarters of a day worth of stuff -- parts and pieces. I wouldn't say we went up there and tuned very hard on it for Loudon just because (the tracks) are different."
Has the Car of Tomorrow changed the racing any? You used to manipulate body panels and aero-stuff, but now it seems like you're in a box as to what you can do. Does that mean you have to spend more time working under the hood?
"Yes. For sure. It's just really hard to get these templates to fit the tolerances that they give us. That's kind of what we're working on is trying to get the cars consistent and get our body builds the same. There isn't a lot you can do. The only thing you can do is build the best car we can and just try and duplicate them. There are a lot of suspension things and other things that we're doing this year that we didn't do in the past because of the rules."