Stewart, Zipadelli pre-season interview, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: With all the rules changes that have occurred during your six previous years in Nextel Cup, do you feel that your USAC background better prepared you to adapt to whatever rules changes NASCAR adopted? TS: "I don't...

Continued from part 1

Q: With all the rules changes that have occurred during your six previous years in Nextel Cup, do you feel that your USAC background better prepared you to adapt to whatever rules changes NASCAR adopted?

TS: "I don't think it hurt, by any means. In USAC you might run a Midget on a quarter-mile dirt track one night, and then the next night you'd be on a half-mile pavement track with a Sprint car before running a mile dirt track the next day with a Silver Crown car. Bouncing around like that between two different surfaces and three types of cars probably does help when they make big changes here that affect the way these cars drive. You don't get stuck on a certain feel of a race car, so when changes come around it's just a matter of getting the balance back again. But I think all the drivers at this level, not just the guys who came from an open-wheel background, but the guys who have made it from Late Models at local short tracks and on up the ladder, they've all learned to adapt, and that's why they've made it as far as they have."

Q: With all that goes on during Daytona Speedweeks, is it easy to lose track of what you need to do for the rest of the season?

TS: "I think everybody is realistic about it and has done this long enough to know that Daytona is a long, grueling week-and-a-half period. But aside from that you do your work there just like we do every week. If we were told to be at each race five days a week, we'd work hard for five days a week. You just work hard for the whole duration that you're down there, and hope that you get a good result out of it on Sunday. Then you go on to the other 25 races and get ready for the Chase."

Q: You have two off days built into this year's Daytona Speedweeks schedule. How precious will those two days be?

TS: "I'm excited to see how it'll work out. Having the ability to go qualify and then impound the cars for two days is pretty good. It gives the crew guys a little more of a break. Those guys are the ones that really take the brunt of our schedule. They're at the track 16-17 hours some days, and to expect them to go back to the hotel that night and then be back at the race track at six in the morning on race day to get the car ready to race - that's pretty tough on those guys. It's a really good idea by NASCAR to build in some off days to the Speedweeks schedule and give these guys who are on the road and really working seven days a week. They work all week at the shop and then they work on the weekend. To give those guys a break here and there is something that'll really be good for our sport."

Q: How is the transition going from wearing the Hutchens device to the newly mandated HANS device?

TS: "It's really rough right now to get it comfortable on me. I would prefer to have an option other than the HANS. Dr. Hubbard, who invented the HANS, came to Joe Gibbs Racing and worked with us on making me comfortable inside the race car. There's a lot of pressure points that the HANS sits on. I broke my collarbone some year's back and we've had a hard time to where it's not putting pressure on that collarbone. We're going to try out a couple of HANS setups in our tests at Las Vegas and California to try to make me more comfortable with it. I appreciate NASCAR's determination to make things safer for us, but at the same time they've got to understand that if we're not comfortable with something, that takes the safety element away from it."

Q: Joe Gibbs Racing has added a third team with Jason Leffler as the driver, Dave Rogers as the crew chief and FedEx as the sponsor. Talk about that.

TS: "Jason used to be a roommate of mine back in Indiana and was a teammate with me here at Joe Gibbs Racing when he ran the Busch Series. It's nice to see that he got another crack at Nextel Cup. Jason and I work well together and we're good friends. I was scared that he wouldn't get another chance and that he wouldn't be able to get back into the Nextel Cup Series. I'm really excited that Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) gave him another chance here. I feel like he's ready this time. I think he was a little more eager to get into the Cup Series than I was for him to get into the Cup Series a couple of years ago. But with the experience that he's gained in the Busch Series, especially with the way he ran last year, and in Trucks I'm excited to have him back on board again as a teammate."

Q: Is it almost a part of NASCAR life that a team has to have three cars?

TS: "Welcome to the evolution of NASCAR racing. It's definitely changed. This sport started changing before I got here and it'll continue to change when I leave. It's in a constant state of change. You look at how many people we have employed at Joe Gibbs Racing (approximately 300) and the size of our building (235,000 sq. ft. with the completed addition) and it's just for the Nextel Cup side of our operation. The Busch Series side of Joe Gibbs Racing has a shop all to its own."

Q: Your car owner, Joe Gibbs, now has a full year of coaching back under his belt after an 11-year hiatus from the NFL. It takes a lot to be a car owner, never mind one who also happens to coach an NFL team. How does he do it?

TS: "He's a great leader. He's probably one of the most influential people I've ever met in my life. He's a great guy and a great motivator and he knows how to pick the right people for the right positions. He's just one of those people that you hope in your lifetime you get a chance to meet because of the impact he can make upon your life."

Q: Did Joe Gibbs' return to the NFL affect the team in any way?

TS: "The biggest thing was that we all missed him as a person. That was probably the biggest thing that I saw. As far as the way everything ran here it was the same as it had always been. But when you have a guy like Joe who is so fun to be around, when he's not here you miss him."

Q: You're competing in the Rolex 24 Hour race again this year, as are a lot of your NASCAR counterparts. What's making that race so attractive to NASCAR drivers?

TS: "It's fun to see all the guys going down there. Everybody's kind of caught the buzz as to what it's about and realizing that it's a lot of fun. Those opportunities really weren't present until the last couple of years, and I think the success that Dale Jr., and I had there last year really opened the doors for other guys in this series to be able to go down there and take a shot at it."

Q: You came so close to winning the Rolex 24 Hour race last year. What do you think your chances are this year?

TS: "I have two great teammates. Obviously, having Andy Wallace back is good because he's a great leader for the team and has done pretty much all of the R&D work for the Crawford chassis. And having Jan Lammers back is good because we already know each other. I raced with him in my first 24 Hour race. Running with teammates who I've already run with in the past is a big advantage. We're not going to have to learn each other. They way Andy likes the car set-up is very similar to the way I like it. Remembering when I ran with Jan the first year, he's the same way - we wanted and expected the same things out of our race car. I think we're going to be able to work really well together with set-ups. I think what one guy likes is what all three of us are going to like. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a great race. I think everybody's going to be flat out for 24 hours. You're not going to have the luxury of taking it easy. You'll have to be conscience of how hard you're using the equipment, but I think you can run as hard as you feel like you can without abusing the race car. Not one team is going to be able to take it easy. All the teams are going to have to be flat out to try to win the race."

Q: How is your role of track owner going since your purchase of Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio?

TS: "Eldora is a place where I've gone as a spectator, as a crew member, as a driver and as a car owner. I know a lot about the facility. It's a new venture for me. Kenny Schrader and Dave Blaney are drivers that have gotten into owning race tracks and now I've added my name to the list. In buying Eldora, the circumstances were just right. It wasn't something where we were looking to buy a race track, but Earl and Berneice Baltes, who owned Eldora, came to us and said we'd really like you to have this facility. I think they know my passion for open-wheel dirt track racing and they know that I've run dirt late models and modifieds and almost every type of car that races at Eldora. They know how much I respect the history of that side of the sport and how much I want to preserve it, while also looking ahead to see what we can do to make the facility grow.

"I'm learning how to spend a lot of money in a very short amount of time. It's something of a balancing act for me. I'm trying to be very conscience of not changing the atmosphere of Eldora, but at the same time trying to add to the experience at Eldora. I'm now learning the simple things like adding restrooms and other little odds and ends that you just don't think of as a driver or a crew member."

GREG ZIPADELLI , crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet:

Q: What are your thoughts on having the longest active driver/crew chief relationship in the Nextel Cup Series?

GZ: "I think it's a cool thing. I take some personal pride in that. We've done a good job with working together. We've definitely had some good times and some bad times, and with the bad times we've always gotten through them. We've got to continue to work on making the improvements that we need to from last year so that we perform to the best of our ability, which is always the bottom line. What happens a lot of times is that a relationship can get stale. The longer you stay together the harder it sometimes is to work together. I know that sounds contradictory. In some ways it's easier because you know the person and the personality, but at the same time the longer you're together the harder it is to be honest with one another because you've become better friends. And the closer you are with a friend the harder it is to tell that friend what sometimes need to be said, no matter how harsh. There's a fine line that you walk between having respect as a friend and having respect for the person that you work with. You can't let it get in the way of doing what needs to be done to perform."

Q: Is that what chemistry means in the driver/crew chief relationship?

GZ: "You can call it chemistry, but I look at is as having confidence in each other. I'm going to do whatever I can for him and in return he's going to drive as hard as he can every lap for everybody involved."

Q: In late 1998 you were the rookie crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing. Now seven years later you're the senior crew chief, overseeing the #20 team but also acting as a resource for the #18 and #11 teams, each of which have new crew chiefs for 2005. What do you think of that?

GZ: "Crazy isn't it? I look at it as how old you are and how long you've been doing this. I'm 38 years old, but in dog years I'm really 55 or 60. I'm surprised by it in some areas because this job is so demanding, emotionally and physically. It's all a part of it, and he who does the best job of juggling it all survives the longest. It's a matter of how hard can you continue to go."

Q: In today's age is a crew chief's job more on the mechanical side or on the human resources side?

GZ: "It's definitely not on the mechanical side in terms of working on the car. It's on the technical side of 'What are we going to do this week to prepare for next week?' And a lot of it is human resources. It's people. You can't work on a race team without them but there are days when you wish you didn't have any of them, as the old saying goes. In a lot of ways it's fun, but it can also be pretty trying. It's one of the things that I like the most but I hate the most. And sometimes it's so overwhelming that I feel like I haven't done as good a job as I would've liked worrying about my race cars."

Q: How has adding a third team affected your preparation for 2005?

GZ: "We're doing the same thing that we did when we started the #20 team. The #18 team gave me some of their cars while we built some new ones. We're doing the same thing this time around. Each team gave the #11 team five cars, while they got five new ones, we got five new ones and the #18 team got five new ones. We've got a lot of cars built so we're in pretty good shape. Are they what we want? We don't know yet, because we haven't learned all there is to learn with the new spoiler rule and tire compound. They're based on what we believe to be true. And depending on how our tests go at Las Vegas and California, we could have a lot more work ahead of us. Last year when we went to Las Vegas to test we didn't have a very good test. So we came back to the shop and cut up a bunch of stuff and made some changes. It worked out, because when we went back there for the race, we ran well and finished third and led a lot of laps. That's just part of the business - being able to adapt and having people that you can count on to get it done."

Q: Was adding the #11 team easier because the pains of team expansion were discovered when the #20 team was added in late 1998?

GZ: "It's gone very smoothly. Jimmy (Makar, senior vice president of racing) did a great job and spent a lot of time preparing when we started the #20 team. And as a company, Joe Gibbs Racing has done it again with the addition of the #11. We're a little bit behind in the building expansion, so the last time we did it we were in a little bit better shape than we are now. But we have more resources now than we did then, so we'll be all right."

Q: How much did the rules changes for 2005 affect car construction?

GZ: "With some of the cars we just cut the rear spoiler to the new specified height and others we built from scratch. We didn't want to take everything and start over, because you may not be able to get back to where you were. So we have some baseline configurations. We know they have a little less downforce but we know they're still good cars. We're kind of using them as guinea pigs to give ourselves something to compare ourselves to."

Q: There are lots of new faces at the shop. Is that due to the creation of the #11 team or is it because this sport just demands so much that it takes an army of people to deliver the goods on race day?

GZ: "It's a combination of both. A lot of people have been added because of the #11 car, and because of the schedule with so many West Coast trips - especially early in the year - there's less days in the shop. There are more days traveling, so when we're gone we still need people to do the work at the shop. You've got to make it up somehow. We're a little over 300 people now."

Q: Will the reconfiguration of the race weekends, where you practice late in the day on Friday, qualify on Saturday, impound the cars and then race on Sunday benefit the crews?

GZ: "I think it hurts, to be honest. Now we go in on Friday and have race practice for two-and-a-half hours. You don't get any time to sit and debrief with your driver. You don't have any time to just stop, take all your notes home, look at it, think about the changes you're going to make, and then apply those changes. It'll cause more stress and we still didn't save anything. We're still going to the race track on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Hopefully it's a work in progress and it'll get better in the future."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Andy Wallace , Jan Lammers , Jason Leffler , Dave Blaney
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing