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Big Stewart-Haas Shakeup Is Quest For Consistency

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 24 2014

Danica Patrick and and crew chief Tony Gibson will be parting company. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Swapping Danica Patrick’s and Kurt Busch’s crew chiefs and road crews had been discussed for quite some time, Stewart-Haas Racing Competition Director Greg Zipadelli said Friday at Martinsville Speedway.

The personnel exchange that was announced earlier this week becomes effective for the Oct. 31-Nov. 2 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.  Veteran crew chief Tony Gibson will leave Patrick and become Busch’s crew chief, while Daniel Knost will leave Busch and become Patrick’s interim crew chief.

The road crews assembled by each crew chief will make the change as well, but the pit crews will remain with their respective drivers. Gibson has been Patrick’s crew chief since she became fulltime in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2013. Knost is in his first season as a crew chief.

“We are just basically looking to try to get both teams to be a little more consistent,” Zipadelli said. “They have had speed throughout the year, but haven’t necessarily put the whole season together, all the races at the level that we expect from them. We need to have all four cars running more consistently week-in and week-out.”

Patrick, who won the pole for the Daytona 500 in her rookie season, has collected no top starting positions under NASCAR’s new qualifying procedure. However, she noted that overall qualifying had gone better for her this year. She has three top-10 starting positions this year, including a fourth at Charlotte in May. Patrick qualified 30th for Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville. In this year’s races, she has recorded three top-10s with her best finish being sixth at Atlanta. Her average finish is 23.188.

Busch, who won at Martinsville in the spring, has an average finish of 19.375 with six top-5s and nine top-10s. Like Patrick, he hasn’t earned a pole this year. His best starting position this season has been second at Pocono in June. He will start 10th on Sunday.

Knost was Patrick’s race engineer when she ran a 10-race Sprint Cup schedule in 2012 with Zipadelli as her crew chief. Zipadelli believes Knost and Patrick will work well together because of her Indy Car background where she’s accustomed to dealing with engineers.

“I think long term it’s the right thing,” Zipadelli said. “A full year, two years from now I think their personalities between Daniel and Danica will work together much better. She wants to know more about what they are doing and the comparisons.”

Patrick said Friday she was used to someone who took an engineering approach.

“I don’t think it has to be that way, but I think everyone is looking for some magic and a relationship that takes you to the next level,” Patrick continued. “I’ve had more old-style crew chiefs since I have been in NASCAR. Maybe this is something that will work better. From my perspective, there are more pieces than just me. I was open-minded to anything. I’m not scared of change.”

Zipadelli notes the organization doesn’t have a lot of time for growth where Busch’s team is concerned.

“We know Kurt is kind of in the prime of his career,” Zipadelli said. “Kurt has not performed at a level that we expect. They (Busch and Knost) are just two different people. Daniel is a very methodical guy. He’s spent a ton of time in college learning the things that go behind the scenes. Kurt is kind of more of an immediate-want-an-answer results kind of guy. They’ve (Knost and Busch) done a good job. We just can’t wait another year for that to continue to grow.”

Gibson, who worked on Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 NASCAR championship team, has also dealt with Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip.

“I think he has heard it all,” Zipadelli said about Gibson when asked if he was equipped to deal with Busch’s passion in the cockpit. “He’ll let it go in one ear and out the other. I think because of his experience, the time he’s been in the sport, he will probably be able to handle that a little bit better.

“He’s kind of toward the end of his career. At the shop, we’ve talked a lot about the next couple of years of being moved into a position inside the shop to help our company grow. It is a really good opportunity for him with the cars he’s been building to go out and try to win a few races in the next year or two.”

Zipadelli said Tony Stewart’s team was a different subject. Chad Johnston is in his first season as Stewart’s crew chief. Zipadelli said they were trying to get the group to bond, to figure out what Stewart needed.

“They missed a lot of the testing last year with his (Stewart’s) broken leg, this year with the incident that he had,” Zipadelli said. “That is a completely different element.”

Zipadelli also noted there was a great deal of movement in the company, including Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition Matt Borland going to Gene Haas’ Formula One team. Haas F1 will make its debut in the international series in 2016.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 24 2014
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