Report: Zipadelli offered to return as Stewart’s crew chief

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Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will have former Michael Waltrip Racing member Chad Johnston as his crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing this season.

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.

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”