Saturday, Mar 25

Ford Performance NASCAR: Greg Zipadelli Speaks on Stewart-Haas Resurgence

GREG ZIPADELLI, Chief Competition Officer, Stewart-Haas Racing – WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THREE STRAIGHT WINS THIS WEEKEND AT WATKINS GLEN?  “We go every week to win with all four of our teams performing to the highest level.  That’s always the goal.  The 4 car has done a really good job in the last, honestly you’ve got to go back to Nashville, Sonoma, Pocono, I think it gets overlooked at how good they ran at some of those racetracks.  They didn’t have an opportunity to win or lead a bunch of laps, but they had speed and it kind of started then.  The last two weeks they’ve done a great job of executing.  Things have gone their way.  The cars have unloaded with a little bit more raw speed and it’s allowed them to have an opportunity to win and they’ve been able to capitalize on that.”


WITH THE TWO WINS DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE MADE SOME GAINS OR SOME WOULD ARGUE THAT YOU WEREN’T THE FASTEST CAR THE LAST TWO WEEKS.  DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE MAYBE A BIT BEHIND?  “I think we’ve made gains, but I don’t think by any means that you can sit and say that you can stop working.  I’d say that Kevin had a really good car last week.  He drove around a car for the lead and never looked back, so you can say what you want, you know what I mean?  There’s always room for improvement.  I think what I look at last week was all four cars were fast.  Honestly, if things went well and Cole didn’t have his issue and Chase didn’t have his fire, I feel like we had the potential to have four cars in the top 10 or top 12 pretty easily.  So, to me, that’s something that as a group we’ve struggled with.  We’ve unloaded here every week and had at least one if not two cars qualify in the top 10, top 12 and run there, but we haven’t been able to have all four cars and have that kind of speed and execution.  From that perspective, I think it shows that all of the work we’ve been doing is going in the right direction, but, like I said, it’s the time of year where everyone is working just as hard as you are, so you’ve got to continue to push and build as much speed in these cars as you can on a weekly basis.”


IS THE 10 CAR SITUATION UNSETTLING OR TYPICAL OF WHERE WE ARE IN AUGUST?  “To me it’s not a big deal.  We’ve waited a lot longer to make some of those decisions to try to build around, so I think we’ll be fine there.  We’ve got a couple of good options and just kind of waiting to see how everything plays out.”


DO YOU KNOW WHAT CAUSED THE FIRE IN CHASE’S CAR?  WAS IT THE SAME THING AS WHAT HAPPENED TO LOGANO AND BUESCHER TWO WEEKS AGO?  “It doesn’t appear to be exactly why that insulation in the rocker box caught fire.  We’re looking into it.  There wasn’t damage to it, so that’s kind of the surprising thing.  I don’t know if rubber got up in there and started the fire and burned.  It’s so hard to tell because so much of it had burned for a while, so pretty disappointing.  Chase and Johnny and that whole group had done a really good job of adjusting on their car and keeping him in the game all day and that’s what they needed.  To come up short again was a little disappointing.”


WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE FOR KEVIN AND RODNEY OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS?  “I think they’ve done a good job of not letting it tear them up and making a bigger deal out of it.  They’ve just gone every week and raced as hard as they could and tried to put themselves in position.  I’ve been in some of those situations before where it’s like you feel like you’re doing everything you have been doing and you’re working just as hard and you’re just not getting the results.  You’re not having the speed.  As a whole, I would say us as a group – the Fords as a group – have been off a little bit this year.  We’re working hard along with all the other Ford teams and hoping to peak at the right time.”


WHAT ARE THE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR THE 4 TEAM IN THE PLAYOFFS.  THE FIRST FOUR TRACKS ARE PRETTY STRONG FOR THEM.  “I think if we continue to progress and keep working on our cars and pit crew keeps doing what they’ve been doing and Rodney keeps his group focused and executing like they have the last six weeks or so, I think they’re gonna have a shot to move much further into the playoffs.  Like you said, a couple of the first races are good tracks for Kevin.  He ran pretty solid at Kansas with a lot of speed in the spring and pit stops and pit road, so there were some issues there that took them out of a really good finish, but it’s always been a really good place for him – there and Bristol.  I would expect nothing less than strong runs there.”


WHAT DO YOUR DUTIES AS CHIEF COMPETITION OFFICER AT SHR ENTAIL?  “It’s basically over all of our departments from manufacturing to building the cars to our pit crews to traveling to and from the racetrack.  It’s just a lot of logistics and budgets and a lot to do with people and contracts and things of that nature.  It’s not as much hands-on as I used to like from working on the cars.  Gosh, some days it’s even hard to get down on the floor to see the guys with all the stuff we have going on.  That’s pretty much the gist of it is just really overseeing and to help support these guys in any way that is needed.”


WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEXT GEN CAR?  “I think being an old-schooled racer, and a lot of us here in this building came into the year thinking, ‘Oh, man.  This is not what we’re used to.  It’s not what we want.’  I think maybe that might have even been some of why we started out slow.  There are a lot of good old racers here and maybe sometimes we’re creatures of habit too much, but, in all honesty, I think this car has performed at most racetracks above expectation.  There has been some little issues, like we were talking about the fire and toe links breaking and things like that, but, in all honesty, when you look at the scope of this car and what they did in two years, all the parts and pieced that had to get manufactured, I don’t know that anybody could have done it any better.  I really feel like it’s gone off really really well.”


WHAT KIND OF LETTER GRADE WOULD YOU GIVE IT SO FAR?  “Just because I’m old-school and not many A’s ever come out of anywhere because you can always do better, but, in all honesty, I’d say it’s a strong B, B-plus.  A lot of the problems that we have had with this car that are probably our frustrations aren’t because of what the group at NASCAR did as far as launching this car.  It was parts and pieces were hard to get and that’s everywhere in the industry.  You can’t buy appliances.  You know what I mean?  Everybody is out of everything, so we just hit trying to produce this car at probably the worst time in my life as far as working and getting over COVID and people working from home – just all those things that are so different from what we’re used to in this industry.  Because of that, it has put a lot of frustration on teams because we haven’t had parts and we were taking them off and bringing them home, but that’s just part of the era we’re living in right now.  They haven’t had a lot of parts changes from that perspective, so I think they’ve done a really good job.”


WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE SEASON TO DATE?  “I think we started the year off.  We thought we went to Daytona and raced and we went to Phoenix and Vegas and California and we thought we had decent cars and speed, and then it seemed like we got off a little bit.  I think through the early part of the summer it was a dry spell.  We won one early and were like, ‘Oh, man.  We’ve got this.  We’re good.  We’ve got this figured out,’ and now we’re back to everybody running better, so it’s been a bit of a disappointing year.  It’s not those years you go, ‘Oh, my God.  You’ve won three races.  That’s a solid year in today’s sport as competitive as it is.’  But we haven’t run good week in and week out like we expect ourselves to do and what’s expected of us from our fans and all of our partners and sponsors.  We definitely had work to do and I feel like everybody has dug deep and worked well together here in the last two months or so and feel like we’ve moved the needle on making our cars better.”


WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NASCAR XFINITY SERIES IN 2023?  “We’re right in the middle of those negotiations right now.  Probably, more than likely, we’re gonna have an Xfinity team, but we don’t have that all locked up yet.  I think in the next 10-14 days we should have things ironed out and be able to let the world know what we’re doing.”


HOW HAS THE COMPETITION FOR PIT CREW MEMBERS EVOLVED OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS?  “I think you’ve got to go back a couple of years.  I wouldn’t say it’s gone crazy, but to have that right group of guys that can work together and execute a stop at the speed that these are today, it’s crazy how these guys are getting it done and how fast and how strong and athletic they need to be.  I think that’s a lot of what’s changed is where you’re finding these guys and bringing them in and how you’re training them.  It’s definitely still growing, also.  That’s the crazy thing is I don’t think it’s plateaued yet.”


WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT – STILL GROWING?  IS IT IN TERMS OF WHAT YOU’RE DOING OR JUST THE CRAZINESS IN TRYING TO GET PEOPLE AND SIGN THE BEST PEOPLE BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH BALANCE IN THIS SPORT?  “Not to be vague, but all of the above, honestly.  Everybody is looking for the next football or baseball player that didn’t make it to the majors that is right there on that edge that’s just one of those freak athletes that is super strong and very dedicated.  It’s turned into way more than from when I was changing tires in 14-second stops.  It’s crazy.  We’ve seen some 8-second stops in practice, so they’re not far around the corner.  I think just from finding athletes and from different sports that you can bring into NASCAR and train them and teach them to change tires, carry the jack, whatever it might be – gas – it’s been a little hectic, but it’s been fun to try to have to look outside places.  All of the other teams are doing it.  You’re competing in a lot of different areas to bring the future in.  That’s why we’ve got so many development guys and development teams that go to the racetrack on the weekends.  It’s just trying to run through a lot of people and see who is out there and who is stepping up to the plate.”


IN TERMS OF DRIVERS WITH WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING AT HAS THAT EVOLVED AND CHANGED WITH LESS TRACK TIME AND MORE ENGINEERING ON THE SIM?  ARE YOU LOOKING AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY?  “I think the sport has definitely changed from that perspective.  You need guys willing to work and study and put their time in the simulator and watch previous races, look at pit road, study the restarts and all of those aspects of on and off pit road because all of that stuff matters and when you don’t have but 15 minutes to do that, you’ve got to show up and have a pretty good idea of what you need and the feel that you’re looking for and you’ve got to be able to go out and execute that.  So, I think from the team’s perspective a lot of it is done obviously before you show up at the racetrack and for drivers I think it’s very similar.”


LOOKING AT THE CAR AND HOW BULLET PROOF IT HAS APPEARED IS THERE ANYTHING THAT HAS SURPRISED YOU?  “No, overall I think the car has held up really well.  There are no good wrecks, but we’ve had damage where you couldn’t continue on in a race and you got it home and it was literally some bolt on components.  And then there were other times where the car didn’t even look like it was damaged, but we couldn’t finish because a control arm broke because it hit the wheel at just the right direction at the right force.  But, overall, I think from the bodies, the chassis, the transaxle, all of those little things that we thought might be issues, for the most part, none of them are issues at all.”


WILL COLE CUSTER CONTINUED WITH SHR IN 2023?  “Right now, I believe that’s what our plan is right now.  We’re just looking and trying to sort out the 10 car at this particular time.”


IS THERE ANY CHANCE FOR TWO TEAMS IN THE XFINITY SERIES IN 2023?  “If we had the right deal, we would be excited about doing it, but I don’t know that we’re in that position or have all the key ingredients to do that – basically funding any younger driver that we believe in could be in one of our Cup cars in the future right now.  I would not say never, but that’s not very likely.”

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