Until Tony Stewart came calling.
Zipadelli reunited with Stewart on Friday as competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, a position that’s been open since early summer as Stewart appeared to be waiting all along for his former crew chief.
Zipadelli said he had the opportunity to work at JGR for the rest of his life but chose to leave for “the only person in the sport I would go to work for at this time of my career.”
“I trust and believe in him as much as I do anybody on this earth,” Zipadelli said.
Zipadelli will oversee the race teams of Stewart and Ryan Newman, as well as build the team for which Danica Patrick will drive full time in 2013. And he’ll get to continue for a bit as crew chief – running Patrick’s team to prepare for her Daytona 500 debut in February.
“That helps with the withdrawal of being off the box,” said Zipadelli, who added he might crew chief all 10 of Patrick’s Sprint Cup Series races next season if the right candidate is not available for the job.
Zipadelli received his release this week from JGR, where he’d been crew chief of the No. 20 since 1999. He spent 10 of those years with Stewart, leading him to 33 victories and Cup titles in 2002 and 2005.
Stewart left JGR at the end of 2008 to become co-owner of his own team, and Zipadelli had since been paired with Joey Logano.
JGR on Friday said Jason Ratcliff will replace Zipadelli, promoted from the Nationwide Series, where he led the No. 18 team to 30 victories and the owner’s championship in 2009 and 2010.
“We appreciate everything Greg has done for us here at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Gibbs said. “He has been a big part of our success, but we felt the timing was right to make this transition for our race team which allows Greg the opportunity to pursue a director of competition position with Tony.
“We also felt that the timing was right to bring Jason to our Cup operation. He is a proven leader with a tremendous track record in our Nationwide program, and we think he and Joey will work well together.”
Logano has yet to live up to the steep expectations placed on him when he entered NASCAR as a much-heralded 18-year-old. He got Stewart’s ride, and it was probably too soon. Logano has just one Cup win and has not made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in his three seasons at the top level.
Zipadelli said the pairing with Ratcliff should help Logano.
“Those are shoes that just don’t get filled,” he said of Logano replacing Stewart. “I believe he’s got an opportunity to prove himself with a completely different level of expectations, and I think you’ll see him blossom because of that.”
Stewart has had a busy offseason since winning his third championship last month.
He fired crew chief Darian Grubb a week after winning the title and hired Steve Addington from Penske Racing.
Addington worked at JGR as Kyle Busch’s crew chief, and Grubb quickly was picked up by JGR as the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin. It’s created quite the game of musical chairs among crew chiefs and reunites close friends Zipadelli and Addington.
Stewart was pleased to get his old buddy, Zippy, back.
“Greg and I have a long and successful history together. I know him and he knows me, and we both know what it takes to build race teams,” Stewart said. “We took our time in searching for a competition director, because it’s an important role with a lot of responsibility. Greg knows all that goes into the job, understands the importance of teamwork and communication across all levels of the organization, and is ultimately someone I have a great deal of trust in.”