Crew chief Greg Zipadelli won his second NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship in four years when Tony Stewart led the standings in nine of 10 weeks during the Chase for the Championship.
After surviving a tumultuous 2002 championship with Stewart, Zipadelli said this year was a joyride. He talked about the season at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and what it means to him and the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing team. Here are excerpts of that press conference:
Question: Is this championship better than the one in 2002?
Zipadelli: To me, it's meaningful because we did it as a group. We improved on all the things we needed to improve on from years past, from finishing laps and leading laps and winning races all in the same year. And we did it with a whole lot more fun. And I think that's due a lot to Tony's maturity and him showing up and relaxing and wanting to be part of this team and actually taking some ownership of it this year. It obviously makes my job and everybody else's a little easier and a little bit more fun.
Question: What is your next goal -- the Daytona 500 or another championship?
Zipadelli: We want to be competitive and put ourselves in a position to hopefully win races and a championship. But probably to get the other two teams to the level that we are is probably one of the most important things we're going to work on this winter. It was a lot of fun when the No. 18 and the No. 20 could race for positions. Everyone could get on the plane and be proud of what we accomplished. It's not because of people's lack of effort. It's just circumstance. I think we're just going to do a better job of getting things organized and having three strong teams next year.
Question: What is your relationship with Tony Stewart?
Zipadelli: I don't know what else I could answer. He is the greatest. I love him, like a brother.
Question: What do you remember about your first interview for Joe Gibbs Racing?
Zipadelli: I remember me and Jimmy (Makar, team manager) sat there for about four or five hours outside the Cracker Barrel at exit 36 (near Charlotte, N.C.). When we left there, a lot of things had changed, but you know, I had talked to him obviously and spent a lot of time next to him. We were fifth and sixth in points at the time, the team I was working for. I got to know him, but we just sat and talked about how I had grown up and where I was from. And the next thing I know he calls back and asked if I could meet Joe at Denny's at exit 25 and that was a three-hour meeting. It just worked out. We talked about shocks -- that's what I was doing -- and one thing led to another. I'm just grateful for the opportunity.
Question: Is this your biggest moment?
Zipadelli: As I worked and grew up, it was obviously my dream. All I've ever wanted to do is race. That's pretty much all I ever have done. This is obviously beyond most dreams. But this is pretty cool to be here.
Question: At the season-finale in Homestead, all you needed was to keep Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards within reach to clinch the championship. How did that change the way you approached the race?
Zipadelli: You know, we started a little bit more conservative than we needed to and were probably that way for the first couple of adjustments. We had gotten a lot better at the end, but at that point we had given up so much track position. But it was all about coming in here and doing what we needed to do. I hate to say it, but we had to play it safe. We didn't need to take any chances in any areas. I don't think we did. We probably could have gone a little bit more aggressively from the start to the end. The bottom line is that we're here because we did what we needed to do.