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Patience Pays Off For Gibbs and Zippy

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 2 2009
Zippy and The Kid enjoy have become a winning combination. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Zippy and The Kid enjoy have become a winning combination. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

One of them owns big, huge chunks of Sprint Cup championship trophies. Two of those trophies. The other also owns chunks of those trophies and, when he goes to polish them, he does so with Super Bowl rings on the fingers which grip the can of Pledge.

Yes, Greg Zipadelli and Joe Gibbs know more than just a few things about winning. In fact, they know little else when it comes to professional sports.

It was because of that, that some observers spent the first six months of the 2009 NASCAR season keeping an inquisitive eye on Zipadelli and Gibbs.

They wondered how a crew chief and a team owner who have been among the winningest in their sport for the past decade would bear up under the weight of a season in which their team and driver were north of 20th in the average-finish column.

They wondered if Zipadelli and Gibbs would be able to stay sane, let alone prevent massive organizational fraying, as they worked with a boy driver who would be competing against men.

The answer seemed to be; quite well. Zippy and Gibbs and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Home Depot team, publicly, at least, hung together and because of that, were able to do something that even Gibbs was not sure they could do – win a race in 19-year-old Joey Logano’s rookie season.

With the pressure off because of last weekend’s victory in New Hampshire, Gibbs was able to laugh off the question which had occupied a lot of racing minds this season: Did he think Logano could come up a victory in 2009?

“He probably did,” Gibbs said of Logano.

In retrospect, there was probably zero reason to expect that the No. 20 corner of the JGR shop would implode this year. Gibbs and Zipadelli got to where they are not by accident and especially not by being impatient – the minimum requirement for working with Tony Stewart for 10 years is a Master’s in patience.

They entered 2009 with eyes open, though NASCAR did cause them to blink when testing was slashed.

“We did a bunch of tests with Joey and felt like he was ready for this,” Gibbs said. “Now at the time we thought we were going to test a bunch and that got taken away from us, so then you’re putting Joey out there with the best in the world, this is the best people in the world doing this, and he’s having to compete at places he’s never seen really.

“I don’t think you think of a rookie up here lots of times, particularly in Joey’s case:  So young, no testing, and so I don’t think that (winning) was our mind‑set.  You hope, you hope you would win one, but I think we were being a little more realistic than that probably.”

Gibbs did see things which rewarded his patience during the first half of the season. He saw, in fact, exactly what he was looking for.

“We were really looking for just constant improvement, and that’s really what we’ve seen.” Gibbs said. “I’ve mentioned the last seven, eight races we’ve battled back from some real tough things. We did at Sonoma and we did again (at New Hampshire) and that’s what we have been proud of.

“But what you see and what you saw in Joey, he continues to improve.  Also, I think we all feel like at the end of the race, he’s always better, running much harder, and I think that’s going to bode well for us as we go forward and come back to these places a second time.”

Credit Zipadelli, Gibbs said.

“We think the world of Greg and what he’s done here,” Gibbs said. “If you think about spending all that time with Tony, winning 32 races or whatever it is, and to bounce back this year. A nd Greg was a big part of the decision.  Everybody on our competition side, on the side of Joe Gibbs Racing, made the decision to give Joey this ride, including Zippy. He was the lead guy.

“I thought last week, and really for about the last seven weeks, we have come back from some real tough things. (Two weeks ago) at Sonoma, to go out in a road race, not being there in a COT car, qualified 12th, battled all day up front; and then getting a late wreck, went all the way to the back and battled all the way back to 19th.  That, to me, in sports, means a lot,” the former coach of the Washington Redskins, said.

In getting the victory at New Hampshire, “A lot of bad things happened, but I think what Zippy has done a great job of is guiding the team. Nobody on that group gets down.  I mentioned the fact that they are used to running for a championship.  This year they are working with Joey, a real young guy; they have been, I think, just great. I take great pride in that, and that’s really been going on for about the last eight races.”

Zipadelli, who opted to stay at JGR and work with the youngest driver in Cup this year instead of bolting with Stewart, showed patience with Logano this year also. He too knew that it would be a challenging year and opted to bite down hard and stick with it through tough times.

Hence his happiness after New Hampshire.

“For us it was obviously a huge day as a group,” Zipadelli said. “For my guys, to see the smile on their faces in the rain and coming over and high‑fiving you.  And we brought some new guys on this year that had not been in this situation, you know, it was just awesome to be able to put ourselves in that position.”

Zipadelli also knows that one victory on a raining day in New England is not the goal of the No. 20 team post-Tony.

He knows that much more of that is expected – demanded – of him, his driver and his team.

“There is always pressure, even with the win,” Zipadelli said. “As an entire organization we need to have three quality race teams out there running in the top 10 and fighting for top fives and wins every week. We’ve got a great sponsor in The Home Depot and we made a commitment to them.  They have been with us for 11 years and we gave them our word that we would do everything that we could to get them in Victory Lane and put this car up front where it needs to be.”

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 2 2009
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