By admin | December 18, 2011
By Richard Allen
It would seem reasonable to think that a NASCAR organization coming out of a championship campaign would have a quiet off season. However, that has not even been close to the case for Stewart-Haas Racing in the weeks following Tony Stewart’s winning of the 2011 Sprint Cup title.
Almost immediately after securing his third championship, Stewart announced the ouster of crew chief Darian Grubb. That was shortly followed by news that Steve Addington was moving from Penske Racing to assume pit boss duties for the number 14 Chevrolet.
While on the surface, that may seem to be a drastic change for a team that had just achieved the ultimate goal in NASCAR. But, consider that while Stewart won five races in his final ten starts of the 2011 season, the entire campaign was hardly so successful.
As a matter of fact, the 14 team’s position in the standings at the time of the cutoff in Richmond barely qualified them for the Chase for the Championship. At that point, Stewart himself even went so far as to declare that his team hardly deserved to be in the playoff and was merely taking the spot of another team that might actually have a chance to win.
But a fuel mileage stretch win in the first Chase race in Chicago served as a catalyst that lit a fire under this team and propelled them to four more victories and an eventual tie in the standings with Carl Edwards. Stewart was declared the champion due to the fact that he had more wins throughout the season than Edwards.
A hot stretch of less than 1/3 of the season was not good enough for Stewart in the end. In reality, SHR was mediocre for more of the season than they were great. The driver/owner had actually decided in the midst of his championship run to make the change atop his pit box in hopes of having a better full season in 2012.
But the changes at SHR didn’t end with one crew chief exchange. It was announced on Friday that Stewart’s long time partner in success during their time together at Joe Gibbs Racing would also be coming to the organization to lend his expertise. Former crew chief of the #20 car Greg Zipadelli has been hired as the new competition director.
As was referenced here( ), Zipadelli had grown frustrated with his role as guide for young Joey Logano and was rumored to be moving for some time prior to Friday’s announcement.
When SHR was initially created, former Richard Childress Racing employee Bobby Hutchens assumed the role of competition director and was given much of the credit for the organization’s early success. However, he was released from those duties midway through the 2011 season.
Zipadelli comes to SHR with a previous track record of success working with Stewart and an understanding of his new boss’s somewhat volatile personality. Also, the new competition director’s highly competitive nature will no doubt serve as a driving force to improve not only Stewart’s efforts throughout an entire season but also the efforts of SHR’s second driver, Ryan Newman.
As many major changes as have been mentioned so far, there is even one more to list. Full time Hendrick Motorsports Nationwide Series driver Danica Patrick will attempt to run a limited number of Sprint Cup races driving a third entry for SHR.
Zipadelli will initially serve as Patrick’s Sprint Cup crew chief.
While these may seem to be an excessive number of changes for a team that just won a Sprint Cup title, each move was made for what would seem to be well thought out reasons. Stewart’s performance was not very good at the beginning of the season and his relationship with Grubb had seemingly grown stale. Hence, the crew chief change.
Zipadelli will no doubt bring a great deal expertise and competitive fire to the team which should benefit both Stewart and Newman. And, Patrick’s presence will allow for more exposure to potential sponsors and bring in more capital.
Strange as it may seem to say, but look for this year’s championship organization to be much improved in 2012.
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