Daytona 500: Max Papis race report

EMOTIONAL PAPIS TURNS IN IMPRESSIVE WEEK IN DAYTONA Daytona Beach, FL (February 14, 2010) -- Racing is a tough sport. At times it appears as though it is designed to break your heart. It will pat you on the back one day and then kick you in the...

EMOTIONAL PAPIS TURNS IN IMPRESSIVE WEEK IN DAYTONA

Daytona Beach, FL (February 14, 2010) -- Racing is a tough sport. At times it appears as though it is designed to break your heart. It will pat you on the back one day and then kick you in the butt the next. Max Papis experienced the full spectrum of these emotions this week in Daytona.

After giving an emotional interview after he qualified his #13 GEICO Toyota Camry for the Great American Race, Papis became a media darling of sorts. He made countless front pages of newspapers around the country, including a feature in the USA Today. It was hard to find Papis in Daytona without cameras around him or a microphone in his face. In a very real sense, he had arrived.

After turning in an exciting performance in Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150's, Papis and the GEICO team set their sights on Friday night's NASCAR Truck Series race. Still glowing from having qualified for his first Daytona 500, Papis pondered the prospect of taking the #9 GEICO Toyota Tundra to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. She would blanket Daytona International Speedway with heavy rain showers for most of the day on Friday. Just when NASCAR thought the rain had passed, and by the time the jet dryers had spent 90-minutes on the track, the rain came back and would prove relentless, forcing the Truck Series race to be rescheduled for Saturday evening.

After having 24 hours to rest and think about what it would be like to be on the Daytona 500 starting grid, Papis strapped into his #9 GEICO Tundra on Saturday evening amid cold temperatures and clear skies for his first of eight scheduled Truck Series races for the GEICO Racing team.

Papis and the Germain Racing team wasted little time in moving the #9 GEICO Tundra forward. Papis avoided a Lap 1 crash by the narrowest of margins and would later make a tremendous save on Lap 32 when another melee broke out just in front of him. Shortly thereafter, Papis had given up on trying to avoid crashes and instead set his compass on the front of the field. By Lap 39 he had taken the lead, and would find himself as the leader two more times during the course of the race.

Unfortunately, on Lap 85, just 15 laps from the checkered flag, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Nelson Piquet, Jr, showed his inexperience when he tapped the #9 GEICO Tundra and sent Papis careening into the wall. A furious Papis responded with great emotion on the radio indicating that he had warned Piquet against such action at the driver meeting. Piquet later apologized, but this would serve as little consolation to Papis, as he was relegated to a 21st place finish after having contended for the win throughout the race.

After a good night's rest, Papis arose on Sunday morning entirely focused on starting his first Daytona 500. Crew Chief Bootie Barker set forth a plan much like he had at Talladega in October that would find Papis in the rear of the field until the closing laps of the race. When Papis cracked the Top 5 in Talladega, Barker's plan proved to be masterful, so it seemed natural to attempt to duplicate the success today in Daytona. When the green flag was displayed to begin the 2010 Daytona 500, Papis jumped from his 31st starting position up to 28th before settling back in at 31st under the direction of Barker. Papis worked the plan until a Regan Smith and Sam Hornish crash sent him hard into the back of Michael McDowell on Lap 8. The contact caused damage to the front nose, causing Papis and the GEICO Camry to battle the aerodynamics of the racecar until Barker and the Germain Racing pit crew could give it the necessary attention.

It would not be until the next caution on Lap 65 that the GEICO team was able to work on the nose of the car. They would tape a new nose in place and do the best they could to restore the aerodynamic integrity to the GEICO Camry. Despite the damage, Papis managed to remain on the lead lap until Lap 75. When Papis and the #13 GEICO Camry returned to the racing surface, the improvements clearly helped and he would soon find himself keeping pace with the field. Unfortunately, on Lap 90 Papis radioed to Barker that there was a strange noise coming from the engine and smoke was present. Soon after, the #13 GEICO Camry was behind the wall and it was determined that there had been a motor failure. Consequently, Papis and the GEICO team would record a 40th place finish in the Daytona 500.

"This has been an amazing week for me, GEICO and Germain Racing because of all we have accomplished," Papis said. "Think about it, no one thought we'd be here. We're a second year team with a second year driver, but we came to Daytona, made the biggest race in the world and they knew the GEICO team was here. They will remember us. I'm proud that I was able to put both GEICO and Germain Racing in their first Daytona 500 and I'm so thankful for their support. It's really special and I can't really quantify how much this means to me. We've improved a lot from last year and I'm sure people will be impressed with us as we move forward in 2010."

While the Truck Series race and the Daytona 500 would seem to be heartbreaking, it was actually nothing less than inspiring. The Truck Series race found Papis leading his first-ever laps as a NASCAR driver, nearly taking GEICO to Victory Lane. The Daytona 500 was special for multiple reasons, but mostly because it included three rookies on the starting grid: GEICO, Germain Racing and Max Papis. It was a story more scripted for a Hollywood made-for-TV movie and it inspired race fans globally to cheer for Papis and his #13 GEICO Camry. Papis exudes passion, emotion and enthusiasm and it moves people. When Papis cried during a post-race interview after the Duel 150, fans and media members alike cried with him. He is refreshing and what NASCAR needs. He has arrived.

Next up for Papis and the GEICO Racing team is the Fontana, CA, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

-source: maxpapis.com

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Max Papis , Michael McDowell , Nelson Piquet , Regan Smith , Bootie Barker , Sam Hornis
Teams Germain Racing