Stewart-Haas Racing Focused On Getting Stewart In Chase

Greg Zipadelli, Tony Stewart

Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing, says the team is making every effort to get Stewart in the Chase. (Photo: Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - With five races left to make the Chase, Stewart-Haas Racing is doing what it can get to get Tony Stewart a win.

One thing the team won’t be doing, though, is testing at a NASCAR Sprint Cup track before the Chase field set. It’s not that the team didn’t want to, it just couldn’t make it work, said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“We tried to go to Atlanta,’’ Zipadelli said of a track before the Chase. “We couldn’t get it worked out. We tried a couple of other places. It’s become very difficult getting four drivers on the same schedule to come and test because they’ve got so many appearance, so much stuff that they do for track promotions and NASCAR. It’s insane.’’

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick has clinched a Chase spot, and teammate Kurt Busch’s one victory also will get him in, but Stewart and teammate Danica Patrick need to win to make it.

With all four tests at Cup tracks available, Stewart-Haas Racing will test test Aug. 25-26 at Chicagoland Speedway and Sept. 2-3 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The team also plans to save a test for the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is deciding  where to have the fourth test, possibly Martinsville Speedway or Texas Motor Speedway.

Zipadell said the team has planned to test at Chicagoland Speedway “forever” to learn some things there that could translate to some of the other bigger tracks in the Chase. Going to New Hampshire was a later addition.

“Loudon just came because our four cars didn’t run as good as we usually run,’’ he said of the New Hampshire track. “We were all disappointed and feel like we’ve got a few drivers that could win there hands down if we give them something.’’

So far the organization has three wins with two from Harvick and one from Busch. Stewart, winless this season, has not had a top-five finish Auto Club Speedway in late March.

“We’ve got to go out and have top-fives or a win to even have a shot at it,’’ Zipadelli said of Stewart’s Chase hopes. “If anybody can do it, he can. Here and Atlanta are really good race tracks for him. We just really need to make sure we work hard and give him something he can go out and race with.

“We’re putting every effort we have into it right now with new cars, new bodies, just trying to make sure we don’t miss anything. Hopefully, it’s not too late.’’

As for the other cars, how does Zipadell assess their progress?

“(Harvick’s team) has been so solid all year,’’ he said. “They have had a really a good plan laid out. They’ve got all new cars built for the Chase.

Zipadelli sees progress in Busch’s team.

“I think if you plotted their finishes, their speed in practice, it has gotten better,’’ Zipadelli said. “Last week (at Pocono) was kind of disappointing. I felt they had a top-three or (top-) four car and could have possibly won under their strategy if things worked there way. We got a flat tire late and hit the wall and still ended up 13th. At the beginning of the year, that would have been a 28th or 30th-place finish. Do they have a lot of room to improve? Yes, but ... there’s just a lot of learning for that group. They’re a young team.’’

While Patrick had a rough Friday - the team changed engines after she missed a shift, then a shock failure caused her to crash in practice - Zipadell says he’s seen improvement this season.

“I think they’ve made a ton of progress,’’ he said. “I think there’s speed in practice. Their qualifying speeds have certainly been way better. Disappointed in their finishes, but I think if you go back and look at any rookie you see that evolution. They just struggle and all of a sudden they start learning how to make speed during practice, they learn how to qualify.

“When they learn how to qualify better, they’re up there with better race teams. What she’s setting up for the race isn’t necessarily working for that. They learn as a group.

“I saw it with Joey (Logano), I saw with Tony (Stewart). You see it with Kyle Larson, who is a superstar. You look at him in practice and think, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to kick their (butt). When you get racing you have to learn it’s different. It’s different learning where you need to race, (where) you’re car needs to be and what it needs to do around others and make speed. It’s a process.’’

Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen starting at noon (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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