Long: A voice of passion, Greg Zipadelli offers ideas to enhance racing

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LONG POND, Pa. – Listen to Greg Zipadelli talk. See his hands move. Hear his voice rise and watch his eyes widen.

Forget about the two Sprint Cup championships as Tony Stewart’s crew chief. Skip the 50 career Cup victories – 34 as crew chief and 16 as director of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing.

When Zipadelli talks about NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it is with the passion of the youngster who wanted to spend his life making cars go fast and drivers faster.

He’s been in NASCAR long enough – he arrived in Jan. 1998, the same month Camping World Truck Series driver Cole Custer was born – that Zipadelli remembers how Bill France Jr. ruled the garage.

Zipadelli has seen plenty of changes in the sport from the “Car of Tomorrow” to the the current model. He’s viewed the sport’s explosion, the impacts of the economic downturn and a push toward changing rules this season to foster better racing.

Teams have had three different areo packages the previous three races. They raced a low-downforce package at Kentucky, they used a package employed most of the year at New Hampshire and a high-drag setup last weekend at Indianapolis. They’ll race with their package used most of the year Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Kentucky Speedway saw a 132 percent increase in green-flag passes, 22 green-flag lead changes (up from 10 last year) and 11 cautions (up from six last year). Indianapolis saw green-flag passing down and drivers deriding the package.

NASCAR has yet to announce what rules package it will have during the Chase. Zipadelli knows which one he’d choose.

“I think in all fairness, the ’15 (rules package) is the best because everybody in this garage has spent their entire year, spending their money on developing it,’’ he told NASCAR Talk inside the hauler for Kurt Busch’s team

My feeling is they didn’t take enough (downforce) off of them to start because we’re going to continue to make gains and before you know it we’re sitting here talking bout the same thing. I’d rather see that (Kentucky) package with even more downforce taken off. I think you’ve got to take a big steps.’’

Zipadelli also takes a deeper look at the sport and says there are ways to make the racing more exciting for fans than changes to the car.

“I think a format change of some sort for the race … we’d reap more benefits off something of that nature than we would continuing to change rules and rules and rules,’’ he said.

Zipadelli says he’d start with when teams could pit during a race.

“You can only pit under green,’’ Zipadelli suggests. “You have to go to the back behind anybody, lapped cars and anybody that stays out if you pit. It just creates a complete different strategy. Maybe after a matter of a few years it works its way out. I don’t think so. I think it would all depend on when cautions fall.’’

Cautions are another area Zipadelli has an idea on what to do.

“I would be for an advertised four cautions throughout a race so we know,’’ he said. “I don’t like the debris cautions because it changes the outcome of the race, not that they’re doing it intentionally for that guy to suffer, but it does.

“So they advertise it every 50 laps or every 100 miles there’s going to be a caution, so that you know this, people are going to plan their strategy more.’’

Zipadelli also looks around at the circuits the series races and suggests adding a couple of more road courses – although that would be in place of other races instead of expanding a packed schedule that can prove grueling for those in the garage.

“No one has the answer or we would have fixed it,’’ Zipadelli said of ways to make the sport more exciting for fans. “I don’t think that it’s a simple spoiler adjustment and it’s not going to fit at every racetrack, which is OK.

“Everybody has to give. The teams can’t continue to just spend the money to go through all these rule packages and change all the things.’’

He reiterates he wants what will make the sport better.

“We will as a group and a company do whatever we can do to make the sport better,’’ Zipadelli said. “Absolutely, positively. We need to do it together. You’ve got to be on the boat. Everybody has got to be rowing in the same direction at the same time.’’

 

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.