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Zippy's Take: On Joey Logano

  Crew chief Greg Zipadelli (R) and newcomer Joey Logano (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Remember Greg Zipadelli?
   For a guy who has been under the hot glare of the spotlight for 10 years, working with Tony Stewart, winning 34 tour races, winning Cup championships in 2002 and 2005, last year was quite different for the veteran crew chief.
   "Yeah it was different...in a lot of aspects," Zipadelli says.
   Instead of working with a championship driver and a threat to win every Sunday, Zipadelli was suddenly pair with rookie Joey Logano and teaching the ropes to a teenager.
   Zipadelli and Stewart were the last team to win the NASCAR title before Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus started their run at four-straight.
   Now, how to size up Joey Logano's first season in NASCAR's major leagues, through his crew chief's eyes?
   Of course Logano, though just 19, has been one of the most highly touted NASCAR prospects in years, ever since Mark Martin first boasted of his potential, insisting Logano could be one of the greatest drivers ever in NASCAR.
   And Logano, though barely a year into this, has not only already won a Sprint Cup race (the youngest NASCAR Cup winner ever, taking the rain-shortened New Hampshire 300 last summer), but he's been generally living up to his rep.
   "For a young kid, and a rookie, Joey got a lot of attention, we got a lot of attention...and very positive, about how he progressed. He did a good job of dealing with all those things," Zipadelli says.
   "Hopefully this year we can start the year finishing the Daytona 500 (Logano crashed out last year in his debut), and make some bigger steps early in the year, and continue to progress.
   "Our thing is still that without testing it's hard for us to get better this year, because it's harder for us to figure things out. Testing is huge for a young team like ours; would Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson gain much by testing, probably not."
    Logano's rookie season went pretty well overall, "though there were some days we didn't finish as well as we should have," Zipadelli frets. "But those are the days I hope we can learn from, to make us better this year.
    "Joey did a really good job -- if you look at his DNFs, they weren't his fault. He didn't tear up race cars.
   "We did at Dover and Daytona, but it wasn't necessarily our fault. The Daytona 500 is only race that I could put in his lap as say he could have avoided that if he hadn't put himself into that situation.
   "That's the most impressive part of Joey, and that will make himself great, is he doesn't make mistakes. He finds the edge where he's comfortable, he puts it there, and he doesn't go over that.
   "Now maybe sometimes he's not as fast, because he doesn't go over it. But he doesn't wreck; he brings it home, and he can learn from that. And the way our series is today, it's all about consistency and finishing."
   For Zipadelli himself 2009 was also a learning year. And Zipadelli actually appeared happier each weekend as the year rolled on, smiling more, more relaxed.
    Maybe so, but Zipadelli laughs and says "I'd rather be my old self.
   "I had to learn over the years not to take everything so much to heart. You become a little more comfortable with yourself and your decisions and how you deal with them, whether you're right or wrong.
   "But I would rather take it really hard, if I knew I had a shot to go out and win every week, and challenging for the chase. That's what I live for.
    "And that's where I felt I personally didn't help our team, because I would get worked up about things and get upset that we weren't a 'that' level.
   "So I had to back off and let some things go.
    "Whether that makes me better down the road, I don't know.
   "But I wouldn't trade the last 10 years of my life, and what I went through and accomplished, just for a smile."

    Stewart and Logano, Zipadelli says "are both very intense people. They both expect a lot out of themselves.
   "But the biggest thing here is Joey is a rookie...and if we're making progress, then that's success. This year we're going to have to be better than last year. And next year we've got to be a lot better."
    And how did Logano do the second time around at each track last year? That's a good indication of learning. And Logano finished better the second time around at 10 of the tour's 13 tracks that have two events.
   "He had notes, and he had a good idea of where to be on the track, and he understood how the tires gave up," Zipadelli said.
   "That's what's exciting to me – there is a lot left in Joey Logano. He's not even come close to his peak.
   "And we're going to be able to make his cars better, because he'll be able to tell us more about what it's doing. That's not something you can rush; it takes time at the track.
   "So we're excited because we know we've got room to grow.
    "Did we expect things to be as hard on the front-side? No," Zipadelli concedes. "But I think it was good for all of us that we had to start thinking about things differently.
   "Joey is a great kid...but he's still a kid. And he's enjoying things. But there are suddenly a lot of things, little things, that he has to do. There are more demands on him.
   "Obviously Tony reacted a lot more strongly at things than other people.
   "But in terms of effort and attitude and to run good, I see a lot of similarities. And Joey is very mature for his age; he puts his heart and soul into this...and he gets as frustrated as the rest of us when things don't go well."

   Zippy says NASCAR's switch to 'change,' like in the new flat-blade rear spoiler, should be good.
   "Over time there will be more changes too, and I think it's good to change things and mix it up," Zipadelli says. "I don't see a downside. Sometimes you just have to mix it up.
   "And if the new spoiler just makes the car drive 10 percent better in traffic, that's great.
   "I think NASCAR's plan is to keep the overall downforce about the same on the cars, and if so, with the tires we've got, I'm actually excited about going back to some of these places."
    NASCAR's push over the past few years, particularly with this car-of-tomorrow and the tight body templates, has tightened competition, Zipadelli says. In one sense that should be good; however in another "it's made it harder....like if you have a bad pit stop and lose 10 spots, you've got to race nine guys to make it back up.
    "Twelve years ago you raced five or six guys every Sunday; but today you truly race at least 12 guys every week. Now there are five that stand out, but there are 12 that can win any week...and then there are another 10 knocking on the door who can win and will win.
   "Things change. The stock market isn't what it was 10 years ago either."


   Joey Logano, wound up in a 500 backup after a Wednesday crash (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


    There are hints that NASCAR and Detroit car makers are working behind the scenes on car-of-tomorrow II, to fix some of the flaws in the current car. And there are the changes, probably more soon to come, this year with the car. NASCAR executives have pointed to 20 changes they've made with the car since its debut.
    Despite long-standing complaints about the current car, Zipadelli says it's not necessarily the car that is the issue: "It just made things closer.
   "Yes, for me, working on my car, they took a lot of things away that we could do, things that if we could 'em for a few weeks (before rivals caught on) you might have a little advantage."
    Now the working word is 'change.' And Zipadelli says he likes that: "To me, not having a lot of experience on a lot of tracks with my driver, this might actually play into our hands."
   Part of the issue with these pending aerodynamic changes is how will they affect the tires.
   "If it adds a little better balance to the car, and if it helps us tune the car – I don't know that it will, but I hope it does -- then it should be better on the tires," Zipadelli says.
   "If they come up with a package that keeps the car from getting so tight around other cars, it will probably be easier on the tires.
   "We can run okay on the tires by ourselves; it's when you're in traffic and lose downforce in that large group, that's when drivers have problems. And if you only have three or four drivers at a tire test, you can't replicate that."
   NASCAR a big test of the new spoiler package set for Talladega in mid-March. But Zipadelli says he's rather see a big test here at Daytona before the July Fourth weekend race, "because Talladega is so smooth and wide that we could figure it out in just an extra practice session.
   "But at Daytona cars pitch and jump....and it's so much handling. If I had my choice between Talladega and Daytona, I would chose Daytona."

   So what does lie ahead this year for Zipadelli and Logano?
   "We just need to move our bar up a little – and being more competitive, with more top-fives and top-10s. I don't think Joey doesn't needs to get any more aggressive. We just need to figure out how to get top-15s on our bad days," Zipadelli says.
   "If we can put ourselves mathematically in position where with two or three races to go (in late August, before the Richmond playoff cut) to make the chase...to where people are talking about 'what if,'" Zipadelli says. "That would be success for this team.
   "We're going to work  very hard to make the chase...but that's going to be pretty tall, considering the other guys in the field."
    Two of those other title challengers are teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, both rather volatile on the track. Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford had their best season ever together. Busch, on the other hand, didn't make the playoffs and then decided he needed a new crew chief.
  "Denny and Mike did a remarkable job last year in improving," Zipadelli says. "Denny has had to take more of that leadership role...and they ran well the second half of last year, before losing a couple of motors and finishing fifth in the championship.
   "They finally put a season together where they could have won a championship if things had gone well. Sometimes you have to lose one before you can win one. And I expect even better things out of that group this season."
    And Kyle?
    "I love Kyle, and he reminds me a lot of Tony in our early days," Zipadelli says. "Kyle has an amazing amount of talent, and he's won of the smartest guys in this garage.
    "It's just a matter of Kyle and his guys that Mike did with his guys last year. Part of that is maturity, part of that is some of the things Joey and I are going through – learning each other, getting that bond, realizing that guy has your back." 


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  Joey Logano (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)







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