Greg Zipadelli Departure 'Hard' For Joe Gibbs Racing; Team Promotes Jason Ratcliff

In some ways, Greg Zipadelli and Joe Gibbs Racing grew up in NASCAR together. Drivers and other personnel came and went, but Zipadelli was a constant in the role of No. 20 team crew chief.

The man they call "Zippy" knew he would have had a job for life at JGR if he wanted it.

But he also wanted a new challenge, more family time and the chance to work for Tony Stewart, who is one of his best friends. And so, after a great deal of discussion, JGR agreed to let Zipadelli leave for the competition director role at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Team president J.D. Gibbs said Friday the process was "difficult."

"It's hard," Gibbs said. "It's hard for him in a lot of ways – this has been his home for a long time. And it's hard for us."

Jason Ratcliff has been promoted to crew chief for Joey Logano and the No. 20 team after a successful career in the Nationwide Series, where he mostly called the shots for Kyle Busch.

"I've been real fortunate to work with Kyle for several years, and I learned a lot about the calls you make throughout the race – the strategy, what it takes to go out and run for championships," Ratcliff said.

Logano and Ratcliff have teamed up in the Nationwide Series for a few races, and they've spent some time together over the last couple days. The new crew chief said he's confident he'll be able to generate chemistry with Logano.

That wasn't always the case for Zipadelli and Logano. As Gibbs said Friday, Zipadelli had a brother-like relationship with Stewart – constant fights, but able to get over any hurt feelings quickly.

While Zipadelli tried to adjust to the younger Logano, they couldn't communicate the same way. With a new crew chief and without the shadow of Stewart's legacy, Logano could "blossom" next season, Zipadelli said.

"He's an amazing young kid who has a lot of talent," Zipadelli said. "He just needs to keep working at it. ... There was an amazing amount of weight on him to try and fill those shoes, and those are shoes that just don't get filled.

"As long as I was there and my group was there, there was still something about that. ... He's got a great opportunity to prove himself with a completely different level of expectations."

But that didn't mean Zipadelli was able to leave JGR easily. The team worked to keep him, but ultimately gave him a release after some sort of an agreement with Stewart.

"I think he still has a passion to crew chief, but when you're away from your family a lot, at some point, you want to have that (JGR competition director) role Jimmy Makar has – and they have that over there," Gibbs said. "We've had the conversations with Tony and some of that team over there, and it makes sense. It doesn't make it easier, but we kind of understand, and it makes sense."

This is the second crew chief change for JGR in the offseason. Last week, the team fired Denny Hamlin crew chief Mike Ford and hired Darian Grubb – who won a championship with Stewart this season – in his place.

As it turns out, Grubb and Zipadelli essentially swapped teams (though Zipadelli didn't end up in the same role).

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