Preseason Testing - Safety Over Speed For Zipadelli
Quote:For Greg Zipadelli, two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup championship crew chief of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, getting rookie driver Joey Logano up to speed on high-speed ovals as quickly as possible is a huge priority. But not at the expense of the 18-year-old driver’s safety.
This year, NASCAR has banned all testing at tracks that are NASCAR sanctioned, meaning Logano can’t go test at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway, a favorite site for teams to shake down their intermediate cars. But Zipadelli said one place that JGR won’t test is Texas World Speedway, which has no NASCAR sanction and recently reopened for testing. Greg Biffle reportedly ran as fast as 218 miles per hour last week at TWS.
“Absolutely not,” Zipadelli said when asked if he planned to test at TWS. “We were scheduled to go and we just cancelled. We’re going to Little Rock (Ark.) instead of Texas. The last thing I need is to go down there and shake his confidence up with wrecking a car.”
Zipadelli said two factors heavily influenced his decision to pass on a TWS test: Lack of SAFER barriers and tire issues. “There’s no soft walls,” Zipadelli said. “And let me just tell you, with what we’ve learned about soft walls, you don’t need to go that fast at a place like that as far as I’m concerned.”
Tires were a concern, too. “We’re pulling stuff out of the warehouse and saying he should go down and run on them. They’re not designed for the racetrack, you don’t know the loads at speed, those types of things. … I don’t think any of the loads or speeds are anywhere close to what we run at, so what are you learning?”
Logano got his first taste of Sprint Cup racing last year, and put bluntly, it did not go well. At Richmond and Atlanta, qualifying was rained out, forcing Logano to miss the show. In the three races he did make, he had a best finish of 32nd. Most troubling was his final Cup race of the season at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, where he finished 40th, seven laps behind race-winner Carl Edwards.
Asked if his confidence was shaken, Logano said, “I think it grounds you, that’s for sure. You realize that, hey, this is the Sprint Cup Series. This is the best of the best. You think about the people that are racing in that series, to even be in it is an accomplishment in itself. You’ve to realize that. And my confidence did come back in the Nationwide Series and I did run well over there.”
But, yes, it was difficult for the youngster nicknamed Sliced Bread, someone for whom everything driving related had come easily, including competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he won a race in just his third start. “Was it tough? Yeah,” Logano said. “But I learned a lot and I think that’ll help me this year.”
“I think it rattled us all a little bit,” Zipadelli said of Logano’s Cup struggles. “We worked with him enough that if he can give him what he wants, what he needs, what he’s
comfortable with, he’s going to go fast. So the question is, how soon can we find what he needs at the mile-and-a-half speedways? Short tracks, I think we’re going to go and run OK at those places. He’s smooth, he’s consistent, he can run five laps and be within a few thousandths a lap. It’s just getting him comfortable enough to run the speeds he needs to run at these high-speed intermediate tracks.”
If Zipadelli is worried about getting Logano up to speed, team owner Joe Gibbs wants to make sure his young protégé isn’t overwhelmed by his off-track demands and the brutal Sprint Cup schedule.
“I think it’s always a confidence thing – what’s his attitude towards things?” said Gibbs. “But I think we have solid people around him, a mature crew chief. He knows the cars, been to the tests. I think the other thing you worry about is all the things he has to do for the sponsors and the media. You can definitely get wore out doing a lot of things of the track. I’ve seen the same thing happen to football players.”
Still, it’s Zipadelli who ultimately is charged with making sure the No. 20 is competitive and with the perfect storm of rookie driver and no testing, he’ll go into this season with more unanswered questions than he ever faced in 10 years with Tony Stewart as his driver.
“It’s making me nervous, I know that, with our situation,” Zipadelli said of the testing ban. “It’s just another challenge for us to make sure we do the best we can for Joey, the Home Depot team — that we prepare, get some things to build on the future. That’ll be our biggest thing is just trying to find some consistency early, some packages he’s comfortable with.
“We’re going to have to walk at a good pace before we can jog and before we can run,” Zipadelli said. “And not being able to go to race tracks and test and look at speeds and compare yourself to other cars like we did last year in Vegas and California, you don’t know how far you’re off or necessarily what you really need to work on. At least last year you could go to Kentucky, you could go to other places. They weren’t perfect, but they were certainly better than what we have to work with this year.”