Shake-up won’t hamper Stewart-Haas

Now that the preseason is starting to wind down, it is only natural to ask: Can defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart make it two in a row this coming season? I think it’s very difficult to do that, especially considering that it has only happened 13 times in Cup history.

Of course, I say that and Jimmie Johnson wins five in a row.

Having the experience of being on Cale Yarborough’s pit crew when he won his three straight NASCAR Cup titles from 1976-78, I’ll offer this advice: It’s really important that you get started well.

It’s not a must, because today’s points system is totally different from what it was when I raced. Then, when you got behind, there was no way to catch back up. The points system today allows for some early mistakes, but you can still rally back and now you’ve got two opportunities to get into NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup: You can be consistent and stay in the top 10 in points, or you can win races and stay within the top 20 in points so that you are in position for one of the Chase wild cards.

When we were trying to repeat, we had the famous fight during the 1979 Daytona 500 with Bobby and Donnie Allison. Then we went straight to Rockingham and had another situation with Donnie, and it got us in a hole that we never got out of.

In 1983 with Darrell Waltrip, when we were going for three in a row, he had a horrific crash. We didn’t have the medical support that we have today and he sustained a concussion. He didn’t know and he wasn’t telling anybody what was going on, how bad he was wrecked. We rallied back but fell short. I think we could have won three in a row if we could have gotten out of that early deficit like we needed to.

Is it easy to repeat? I don’t think so. I think it takes special people to make it happen.

I know the team behind Tony Stewart was different in 2011, but I feel like new competition director Greg Zipadelli and new crew chief Steve Addington make up a pretty formidable group that has a point to prove to the rest of the world. I know how it felt in 1982 when everybody left and everybody felt like we weren’t going to be able to hold our own at Junior Johnson’s — but we were able to do that. That was one thing I took a lot of pride in — we did not let Junior Johnson nor Darrell down. I’m sure that weighs heavily on Addington’s mind.

Luckily, Zipadelli has been there and he knows what it’s like to win a championship and what it’s like to lose one. This group has motivation and a big chunk of pride riding on this team in 2012. It makes them dangerous.

Addington’s not a guy that is sought after for the sound bites he is going to give, but he is a very fierce competitor and he takes a lot of pride in what he does and he takes a lot of pride in representing himself. I don’t think Stewart and the SHR team would have turned to him if they didn’t see those special qualities that I feel like he possesses. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, nobody else is going to. I know he is all about winning races and he’s been able to make guys win whenever he’s been with them. Even in some very difficult situations, he’s been able to make it work. I have no reason to believe that won’t continue at SHR.

The added bonus, even though Zipadelli will have some distractions having to take care of Danica Patrick’s No. 10 part-time team for the interim, I feel like all the guys on this team have a common goal: to prove that even though this team lost the guy who has been given a lot of credit for last year’s championship, they can hold their own and they can do it even with an extenuating circumstance, that being getting Patrick up to speed at the Sprint Cup level.

As good as Danica is, the team knows it faces extra attention, so everyone must have the best they can for her to help her as much as they can. They need to be able to get an extra 10 percent out of the car early on until she figures out how to get that 10 percent out of herself.

Zipadelli has a lot riding on the line. He would like to come out and show that he can do it in a new environment and with the challenge of getting a rookie up to speed.

He really is enjoying the fact that he’s back with Stewart. He has been given some new challenges — notably getting Danica of to a successful start, but also getting his buddy a second straight championship.

A lot of people wouldn’t welcome this, but I think Zippy does.