Jan 11, 2014, 3:29 PM EDT
But if SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli (pictured, right) had gotten his way, he would been that guy instead.
At Joe Gibbs Racing, Zipadelli guided the former IndyCar champion to his first two Cup titles in 2002 and 2005. But the successful crew chief/driver duo was broken up after the 2008 season when Stewart opted to become a co-owner at SHR.
According to Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press, “Zippy” offered to become Stewart’s crew chief once again last year. However, “Smoke” shot the idea down, even though he’ll now be working with his third different crew chief (Darian Grubb, 2009-11; Steve Addington, 2012-13) since he and Zipadelli parted ways.
And these days, Zipadelli is finding himself missing being on pit road, even though, according to Fryer, he now considers the job to be “24/7 worry” – a much different challenge than what it was before.
“Back then, crew chiefing was so much more adrenaline,” he said. “Ups and downs, I loved it. It’s what drives you. Now it’s just worry, 365 days a year. And there aren’t the same highs.”
That didn’t stop him from trying to attempt to be the replacement for Addington, who has since moved on to Phoenix Racing. But with Stewart’s decision, Zipadelli will have to watch and see if Johnston can forge a solid partnership with Stewart just as he did.
As Zipadelli explains to Fryer, it wasn’t all smiles and sunshine for him and Stewart when they worked together on the track. But even through all the arguments, they still aimed for the same goals and they still supported each other in working toward those goals.
“That sometimes is hard to come,” he said. “[Stewart's] a different person now than he was then. He’s changed a lot, he’s mellowed a bit. But, he needs someone to push him at times and tell him things he doesn’t want to hear.”
Between getting acclimated to Johnston, dealing with SHR’s expansion to four cars, and returning from a broken leg that ended his 2013 season last summer, Stewart certainly has a lot to contend with as the new season approaches.