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Pedley: Danica May Now Have Perfect Mentor

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 17 2011

Greg Zipadelli has spent the last three years mentoring Joey Logano. His next project could be more difficult. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Greg Zipadelli’s new job will not be of the low-profile variety. On the contrary. Because in addition to taking over as competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, Zipadelli will also serve as interim crew chief for Danica Patrick as she forays into the Sprint Cup Series.

Love it, Zipadelli said of the second part of the job description which was laid out for him during a teleconference with the media Friday.

“It’s a great opportunity and we’re going to do the best we can with it. We’ll surround her with the best people we can and give her a great opportunity,” Zipadelli said.

Zipadelli, who was quickly hired by SHR after being granted release from his job at Joe Gibbs Racing Friday morning, would appear to be the right person – the perfect person – for the job as Patrick’s guide in Sprint Cup.

High-profile jobs as crew chiefs for young high-profile driving prospects are what Zipadelli has been all about the last 13 years.

In 1999, he was given the job of crew chief for Tony Stewart, who had already been tagged as a super-interesting prospect after showing amazing talent in USAC and IndyCar series. With “Zippy” on the box,

Danica Patrick will move into the Sprint Cup garages next year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Stewart won the 33 races and two Cup championship.

Three years ago, Zipadelli was put in charge of launching the career of Joey Logano, who was also dubbed a potential Cup star long before getting into his first Cup car. The success with Logano was not as dramatic or immediate as it was for Stewart, but Zipadelli helped “Sliced Bread” show steady improvement.

And, I suspect, helped keep Logano’s feet on the ground and head in the game at JGR.

Now, Patrick.

This could be Zipadelli’s biggest challenge as a career-developer.

Patrick has, by far, the most pressure on her as she enters her rookie year. But, she has shown the least potential.

Patrick comes over from IndyCar with just one victory in that series. That despite being with top teams. She also comes over with the reputation of being, at times, a testy diva. Once a fan favorite of IndyCar fans, she appeared to have worn out her welcome after she was booed during driver introductions at Indianapolis the year she blamed her team for some of her troubles.

Patrick has been a part-time driver in the Nationwide Series the last two years and has been OK, but far from great. Driving very good Hendrick Motorsports cars via JR Motorsports, she did not establish herself as constant threat to log top-10 finishes.

If anybody can help Patrick find herself as she prepares for her Cup debut, it is Zippy.

The man has seemingly limitless supplies of patience to go along with his depth of experience and total knowledge of the series and its idiosyncrasies.

Zipadelli got off to a great start in the Patrick-mentor part of his new job on Friday when he was asked about his new charge.

No, he said, he had not met with Patrick at that point. But, he added, “From what I see from the outside and talking to Tony on why he agreed to do this, she has got more determination than most people. She has confidence in her abilities. She’s proven that in the past. The big thing about it is the want and the desire. That seems to be there without any question at all.”

Some of us still have big doubts about Patrick’s ability to become a consistent winner in the Sprint Cup Series.

But the view here is that there can be little doubt that the guy with the best shot at turning Patrick into a winning driver will be the guy who will be on her pit box at Daytona in February.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 17 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • DP-Fan says:

    I learned from this article that Mr Pedley does not know very much about Danica Patrick (other than some moments of bad publicity or chatter). More actual research may help when writing articles concerning her abilities as a professional driver. I think Tony Stewart may have done HIS homework – otherwise, I don’t think he would be pursuing such an investment in time, people, and cost.

  • steven says:

    I have my “doubts”. Any talk about her becoming a consistant winner is absurd.

    • Eddystone says:

      You guys may have doubts, but that is all pure speculation. Danica is a true racer, and she has spunk! She is also extremely persistent and coachable. She’s where she is because she has natural talent and has worked hard to develop it while managing her professional career with intelligence and shrewdness. As a result of this, she will be the first female NASCAR driver to have top drawer equipment, excellent team support and a loyal sponsor with deep pockets. As has been the case in the Indy series, people seem to already be setting the stage for judging her a failure if she doesn’t produce multiple wins and championships almost right out of the gate. Just remember that a lot of the biggest NASCAR stars have had long careers without achieving either of these goals. Mark Martin has never won a championship, but he’s one of the greats. Michael Waltrip has only won a handful of races (albeit big ones) in all his years in the series. Let’s just wish Danica well and see how she fares, eh? I think she will be around for a long time to come.