Friday, December 16, 2011

Joey Logano the big winner in latest crew chief shuffle

The crew chief dominoes continue to fall this offseason as Tony Stewart got his right-hand man back on his team and Joey Logano might have found his winning partner.

Longtime crew chief of the #20 car Greg Zipadelli announced his move Friday to Stewart-Haas Racing where he will serve as competition director and interim crew chief for Danica Patrick.

To fill Zipadelli’s old spot atop the #20 pit box, Joe Gibbs Racing promoted Jason Ratcliff to be the crew chief for Joey Logano in 2012.

Ratcliff moves up after seven years as crew chief for the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide Series team.

Two major names in NASCAR, Stewart and Patrick, may have gotten the man they wanted for their team, but Logano might be the driver who benefits the most from this switch.

Don’t get me wrong, Zipadelli will likely be excellent in his job as competition director and crew chief for Patrick. Zipadelli has been one of the best crew chiefs in the sport for more than a decade, and he will surely mesh well with Stewart and his organization.

Believe it or not, the Zipadelli-Stewart duo was not far behind the Gordon-Evernham and Johnson-Knaus pairings.

Stewart won 33 races and two championships with Zipadelli as his crew chief, the most success any driver not named Jimmie Johnson has had since Stewart entered the sport in 1999.

However, life has not been so wonderful for Zipadelli since Stewart left to form his own team in 2008. A young Logano jumped into the #20 Home Depot Toyota full time in 2009 and went on to win one fuel-mileage race that year. He hasn’t won since and has not finished higher than 16th in the points standings.

The adjustment had to be difficult for Zipadelli. He went from calling the shots for one of the greatest drivers of his generation to trying to develop the best thing since sliced bread. The problem was that normal sliced bread isn’t that amazing.

Logano has talent, no doubt, and he has won nine races in his four seasons in the Nationwide Series. But he came into the Sprint Cup Series as an 18-year-old who had not even competed in a full Nationwide Series season, and at times he has looked overwhelmed on the Cup side.

NASCAR drivers, like any other professional athlete, need time to develop. That’s a large part of why the truck and Nationwide series exist. Sure, Stewart achieved success in NASCAR pretty quickly, but he a substantial background in other forms of racing and was 28 years old by the time he was a rookie in the Sprint Cup Series.

Logano won't reach that age until 2018, and he still has a very bright future ahead of him.

That’s why it is important for Gibbs to bring in a guy such as Ratcliff now to work with Logano. Ratcliff has worked with plenty of young drivers, including Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, during his time in the Nationwide Series and would figure to be a much better fit than Zipadelli for a driver such as Logano.

This is the type of change Logano needed. He obviously wasn’t getting anywhere fast in his current situation, and now he might have the chance to settle in and steadily develop as the top-tier driver everyone thought they would see when he first entered the Cup series.

The #20 might not compete for a championship in 2012, but it should be toward the front of the field a lot more often.


  1. Even Zippy has admitted that pairing Joey with another crew chief might get him the success that Zippy had not. In any event, it is a well-deserved promotion for the 2-time Champion crew chief who Tony regards and respects as a "big brother". I think it is a win-win for everyone involved.

    Anybody wondering if Mike Ford might get picked up by SHR to CC the 10 car in the future? If he does, it would be essentially JGR (circa 2005) reborn!

  2. Logano? Big winner? Danicant? Starting off with a Championship Crew chief? What has gone wrong in this world? How can a talented regional winner break into Nascar these days?

  3. Anonymous - And if M&M's had gotten Kyle Busch dumped, he could've joined SHR as well! If not him, J.J. Yeley is surely up for a ride with a decent team.

  4. I would have liked to see Ratcliff go to the 18 team when Addington left. He and Kyle seem to have great chemistry in the NW series.

  5. Gene - Good point. Overall JGR had put together a pretty strong crew chief lineup for next season.