From Testing to Teammates and Team Changes, Tony Stewart Excited for 2012

[media-credit name=”Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”232″][/media-credit]Tony Stewart doesn’t appear ready to descend from cloud nine, where’s he’s been since winning his third career Sprint Cup Series championship in dramatic fashion last November in Homestead.

Thursday Stewart was among 31 other teams who got a taste of the first on-track action of the year as they began testing for next months Daytona 500. It was there Stewart said he’s really excited about the upcoming NASCAR season because of the many new things ahead for Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Obviously the end of the year last year was – still almost like a fairy-tale for us, storybook ending,” said Stewart. “But this is our biggest race of the year. It starts today. Well, it started the day after Homestead actually for the crew guys and today is the first day that we get an idea of the rewards for their hard work and see these cars on the racetrack and see what kind of speed they have.”

Normally a driver to find other things to do with his time instead of test, Stewart acknowledged that he was having fun. Not as much though as the individuals who put their blood, sweat and tears into building brand new racecars. Testing days are their days, when the hard work during the offseason from crew chiefs, car chiefs and engineers is put into motion.

“Our sport is unique obviously having our biggest race the first race of the year,” Stewart said. “But it’s very fitting at the same time because this race, we have more time during the off season to prepare for this race then we do the others. You bring cars here that you have the extra time to just make them that little bit nicer than you normally have time to do.”

The work Stewart put into the off season as a team owner he hopes will do its part in winning their first Daytona 500. The Indiana native has won everything in NASCAR except its biggest race. He’s won everything there is to win at Daytona – three July classics, three Budweiser Shootouts, one Gatorade Duel race and six Nationwide Series races – but not February’s Great American Race.

When the green flag drops on February 26 it’ll be the 14th attempt for Stewart. Now though, coming off another huge accomplishment he’s looking toward racing momentum (he won in other racing series during the off season) as well as a few key pieces at SHR to lead him into Daytona’s hallowed ground.

First comes new teammate in superstar Danica Patrick. Another drafting partner, one he worked very well with in July during the NNS race, will be there to lend a helping hand to both Stewart and Ryan Newman during Speedweeks. Patrick will attempt to run in the 500 and other Cup races during the 2012 season.

And while Stewart is certainly happy for Patrick, he’s even happier about who her crew chief will be. Some of the biggest news since Homestead has been the personnel changes around the garage. From drivers to spotters and crew chiefs, this was one of the busiest off seasons in recent memory.

First, Stewart hired Steve Addington as his crew chief; with the man he won the title with in 2011, Darian Grubb, moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Denny Hamlin. As if in return, Greg Zipadelli moves to SHR as their competition director, leaving behind JGR where he and where once upon a time he and Stewart worked together.

Twelve years ago it was Stewart and Zippy, as he’s known, rolling into the garages at Daytona ready to set the racing world on fire. They won two championships together and over 35 races before Stewart left JGR and formed his own team. Zippy stayed behind but now feels the time is right to make a change and reunite with Stewart.

According to Stewart it made sense to have Zippy in both roles, competition director and part-time crew chief. His experience with young and often inexperienced drivers will play a major role for Patrick in her learning process. It’s the best of both worlds for SHR.

It’s also the best certainly for Stewart. During their tenure together the two were very close, fighting like brothers during the bad times and succeeding in big ways during the good times. The two are perfect for each and the reunion has everyone excited, but none more than Stewart to have his best friend back on his side.

“You know, it’s nice having Zippy back,” Stewart said. “I got to work with him for ten years, so seeing him at the track here today was the first big reminder of kind of going back to what it was like to start with him in ’99. I know we’re excited to have him back and we’re not working in the same capacity together that we did for ten years, but he’s right there next door and it feels like home again. So I’m pretty excited about it.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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