Greg Zipadelli, crew chief of the #20 Home Depot car since it was set up in 1999, is to leave Joe Gibbs Racing with immediate effect in order to take up the position of director of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Zipadelli still had a year to run on his contract at JGR, but was growing increasingly unhappy with the team and with the performance of his young driver, Joey Logano, with the two exchanging sharp comments over the team radio during the previous season and Zipadelli reportedly keen to end his time as one of NASCAR's longest-serving crew chiefs.
"We're very proud to have Greg Zipadelli join Stewart-Haas Racing," said driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart, who won his third Sprint Cup championship last month. "Greg and I have a long and successful history together. I know him and he knows me, and we both know what it takes to build race teams."
"Tony had an unbelievable opportunity with Stewart-Haas Racing, and he's obviously made the most of it," said Zipadelli. "To become a part of what he's already built, but to do it in a new role with a new set of responsibilities, was a challenge I wanted."
Zipadelli's move reunites one of modern NASCAR's most formidable partnerships, with 'Zippy' and Stewart having won 33 races and two NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in 2002 and 2005 over the course of ten years together, before Stewart opted to leave JGR where he had been for his entire NASCAR career up to that time in order to set up his own team in 2009.
Zipadelli would likely have followed his close friend to the new team if he had not been signed to a long-term contract at JGR through 2012. JGR finally agreed this week to an early release for Zipadelli, presumably after reaching a mutual agreement and/or a financial arrangement with SHR: "I really appreciate Joe and JD Gibbs for all that that they've given me over the years and for allowing me to seize this opportunity," said Zipadelli after the today's news.
Zipadelli is replacing Bobby Hutchens, who was released by SHR during the summer. In that role, Zipadelli will oversee car crew chiefs and making or approving key hirings. "We took our time in searching for a competition director because it's an important role with a lot of responsibility," explained Stewart. "Greg knows all that goes into the job, understands the importance of teamwork and communication across all levels of the organization, and is ultimately someone I have a great deal of trust in."
Zipadelli will also oversee the setting up of a third car team for Danica Patrick for her 10 Cup appearances with the team in 2012. No crew chief has been announced for the #10 car, and it's likely that Zipadelli himself could fill the role if no one more suitable is identified in the meantime.
Zipadelli's move to SHR had been heavily rumoured for some days, ever since he tweeted a picture of himself in a bar with Stewart's new SHR crew chief Steve Addington with the caption, "Looking forward to a great year..."