Comfort Zone: Two-Time Champion Stewart, Crew Chief Zipadelli Tackle 'New' Las Vegas Track Show Of Force: Jon Wood Anticipating Las Vegas Event, U.S. Air Force Sponsorship Top Speed: Scott Riggs Fastest in Monday Morning Test Session DAYTONA...
Comfort Zone: Two-Time Champion Stewart, Crew Chief Zipadelli Tackle 'New' Las Vegas Track
Show Of Force: Jon Wood Anticipating Las Vegas Event, U.S. Air Force Sponsorship
Top Speed: Scott Riggs Fastest in Monday Morning Test Session
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 29, 2007) -- If longevity is measured in miles and minutes, then two-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and his crew chief Greg Zipadelli are distancing themselves from their peers.
The 2007 season marks their ninth together -- the series' longest-running, current driver-crew chief partnership. Strewn between their rookie season of 1997 and Monday's first test laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway are two series titles (2002 and 2005) and far more highs than lows.
Sipping coffee early Monday morning in the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet transporter, Zipadelli admitted awe at accumulated milestones.
"It's hard to believe we're starting our ninth season," he said of his and Stewart's combined tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing.
A total of 56 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams are attending the annual two-day preseason test at Las Vegas. And with a 10th anniversary looming next year, crew chief and driver know exactly what they need to accomplish.
The key? Space and understanding.
"We've been there," Zipadelli said.
Endless laps and the research they generate are particularly imperative this week because of a new track surface at Las Vegas. Reconstruction began immediately following last March's NASCAR weekend, including an increase in banking from 12 degrees to 20 degrees in all four turns, and Zipadelli knows the baselines gleaned this week will need time to be distilled.
The series returns March 9-11 for the 2007 NASCAR event weekend.
"We're starting the week with a brand-new race track," Zipadelli said of Monday's sessions, adding that laps will tell him which direction to head for set-ups. "We may be last on the time sheet when we leave here, but we won't leave here thinking we won't be competitive when we come back to race."
Then there's the comfort factor. Given the thousands of testing laps they've turned together since 1997, Zipadelli knows he and Stewart aren't starting from scratch when it comes to gathering information. So far, so good: The No. 20 posted Monday morning's second-best speed (29.429 seconds/183.492 mph).
"You don't take anything for granted," Zipadelli said of the professional bond and friendship he and Stewart share. "He lets me do my job and gives me the freedom to do what I need to do, and I don't try to tell him how to do his job."
NEWS AND NOTES, PART II
Wood's Wild Blue Wonder ... Thanks to its next-door neighbor status to Nellis Air Force base, Las Vegas Motor Speedway creates interesting juxtapositions of speed and sound on a daily basis. Fighter jets launch continuously, both singly and in pairs, and during tests and race weekends, often with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup cars roaring around the 1.5-mile track below them.
One driver in particular admits to sneaking a peek through his windshield. Wood Brothers Racing's Jon Wood, who will make his 2007 series debut in March in the No. 21 U.S. Air Force Ford, marvels at the sight. He's snagged a ride in an F-16 before, and hopes to do so again in March.
"What's phenomenal to me is to be going down the backstretch and you're in a race car," Wood said, "and a fighter jet makes you look like you're going nowhere. It's awesome what the Air Force folks do."
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder At Las Vegas
Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Track Layout: 1.5-mile tri-oval.
When: Monday, Jan. 29 through Tuesday, Jan. 30.
Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Who: 56 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams