Zipadelli downplays Stewart speculation
SONOMA, Calif. -- A rough start to a season that began with high expectations has Greg Zipadelli admittedly unhappy right now.
But the crew chief downplayed speculation that he's so upset with how Joey Logano has been running he's considering reuniting with Tony Stewart. Zipadelli won 33 races and two titles with Stewart, but stayed at Joe Gibbs Racing when the driver left to own a team.
He's been paired with Logano since 2009, and after a strong close to last season, many picked Logano to make the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Instead, they go into Sunday's race at Infineon Raceway winless and ranked 23rd in points.
Through 15 races this season, Logano has just two top-10 finishes.
"I am unhappy with our results," Zipadelli said. "Of course I'm not happy right now. Who would be happy 23rd in points?"
Then came a surprise: Logano's pole-winning run in Friday's qualifying. It's the second pole of Logano's career, and first on a road course.
"We've been going through a bit of a drought, so this is going to help us a lot," Logano said after his qualifying run. "I really think the big thing (winning the pole does) is self-confidence in me and the team and giving us momentum.
"Knowing you can do it now and you can drive around a road course, I think that is going to help us get our car setup better and in the race help us be as smart and methodical as you can."
Zipadelli just wants a good, clean run. He said the current tire used by Goodyear has thrown the entire No. 20 for a loop, and called the first eight races of the season "total hell." Logano finished 23rd or worse in five of the first six races.
"This tire has changed the way we've had to do a lot of things," Zipadelli said. "It changed the way we do a lot of things and we haven't found what we need to get him comfortable, and we're halfway through the season. That's frustrating. We've had some decent days but not any great days."
Now that Stewart is seeking a director of competition -- he fired Bobby Hutchens earlier this month -- there's been talk that Zipadelli could move to Stewart-Haas Racing in some capacity. But Zipadelli said he's got two years left on his contract with JGR, and no immediate plans to leave the organization.
"I love Tony, he's as close to me as my brother," Zipadelli said. "But that doesn't mean anything. I love the organization I work for, they've been very positive and very supportive for over 13 years. I learned a long time ago to never say never in this sport about anything."
Stewart, while not speaking specifically about Zipadelli, said SHR isn't close to hiring a new competition director.
"We haven't got anywhere yet. We are still looking at our options," he said. "It would be nice to have a person in that position. We definitely want to get that role filled. At the same time, we want to make sure just like we did when we hired Bobby, we want to make sure we're hiring the right person. So we'll take our time on it."
MONTOYA-CONTRACT: Juan Pablo Montoya was more interested in discussing Sunday's race than he was his ongoing contract talks with Chip Ganassi.
Montoya said he is close on an extension to continue driving the No. 42, which he has piloted since he left Formula One in 2006.
"We're pretty close," Montoya said. "We'll see. When it's ready, you will know."
Montoya is always listed among the favorites at Sonoma, where he earned his first Sprint Cup victory in 2007. His only other win in NASCAR's top series was last season on the road course at Watkins Glen.
But at 15th in the current standings, and 46 points out of the top-10 qualifying positions for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, he knows he needs to knock down a win and climb through the standings.
"This is a place I think we are in a really good position to either get a win or run up front at least and get a lot of points," Montoya said. "I think we can still make the Chase by being in the top 10. We have a car that is capable of doing that. I think if we make good calls in the next few weeks we should be pretty good.
"If we get a win here, yeah, I think it would be great. But two really clear chances of victory are here or Watkins (Glen)."
MIKE FORD STUMPING: Denny Hamlin hopes his win last weekend at Michigan will finally silence talk that he needs a new crew chief.
Because of his slow start to the season -- Hamlin won eight races last year and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the final standings -- there had been calls for a shake-up to the No. 11 team. Hamlin has steadfastly defended Mike Ford, but couldn't seem to stop the talk once and for all.
"It would never get past me. Getting rid of Mike or switching Mike out would never leave my desk," Hamlin said. "He's the guy that knows me the best and even though people doubt him and his ability and consider him old school, I consider him new school. He's the guy (at JGR) that innovates a lot of things that's on all those race cars.
"I definitely feel like he's the guy that I can win a championship with. There's no other guy right now that I would do a better job with than him."
Hamlin also thinks talk of his slow start to the season was silly. Despite needing 14 races to get his first win of the year, he said he never doubted he'd get to Victory Lane and make the Chase. Hamlin is ninth in the standings.
"Well, we were going to win eventually if we kept running like we were," he said. "Of course we didn't want it to take this long, but we know we can win. We weren't going to go winless for the rest of my career. We were going to eventually get over last year."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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