PAPIS EXPERIENCES SWING OF EMOTIONS IN MICHIGAN Brooklyn, MI (June 14, 2009) -- On Friday afternoon, Max Papis and the GEICO Racing team were practicing the ...
PAPIS EXPERIENCES SWING OF EMOTIONS IN MICHIGAN
Brooklyn, MI (June 14, 2009) -- On Friday afternoon, Max Papis and the GEICO Racing team were practicing the #13 GEICO Camry in an effort to prepare to qualify for the LifeLock 400. This is far removed from where Papis has spent the last six years during mid-June.
Racing's past has typically found Papis touring the 8.48-mile circuit in Le Mans, France, in the second biggest race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not this year. When the 2008 season concluded, Papis traded his Corvette for the #13 GEICO Camry and made a long-term commitment to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, something he promised his late father that he would do regardless of the sacrifice.
What Papis sacrificed is a secure job driving one of the top racecars in the world in exchange for making an entrance into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the benefit of very little experience in NASCAR's bottom two series'. If the former challenge is not enough, Papis is doing it with a rookie Sprint Cup Series team in Germain Racing. Consequently, instead of cruising the French countryside this weekend, Papis was instead wheeling the #13 GEICO Camry around the 2-mile D-shaped oval of Michigan International Speedway.
If Papis' heart was not twisted enough, he also recalls that it was at MIS that his father-in-law, racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, was involved in a severe crash that would ultimately end his historic career.
"I feel many emotions this weekend because it's during this weekend that I've always been in Le Mans, so it's tough to watch it on television," Papis said. "But, NASCAR has always been my goal, so it means so much to me to be here. I know my dad is looking down smiling. I wanted this so bad and just before he died in 2006 I told him that I would make it happen. Here we are. I can't thank GEICO enough for supporting me and believing in me and I'm racing with all my heart for them." He continued, "I can still recall the day that Emerson (Fittipaldi) was involved in that crash in Turn 1. He was a legend and this is the place where he last drove. This place is special in so many ways because of the time I spent here as an open-wheel driver and now as a NASCAR driver."
After salvaging a practice session that included solving mechanical problems with the racecar, Papis and the GEICO team were focused on qualifying. Whatever they did to the car must have worked because Papis' lap of 39.26 seconds was good enough for a spot on Sunday's starting grid.
Qualifying 43rd, Papis did what any driver would do (or at least what 'Mad' Max would do); he went and found pole sitter Brian Vickers to seek advice. Papis ended up sleeping on the couch in Vickers' bus after an evening filled with racing conversation and guidance handed down from Vickers to the 2004 Grand-Am Champion.
Starting 43rd when the LifeLock 400 got underway on Sunday afternoon, Papis quickly picked up two spots on the first lap. He then moved the #13 GEICO Camry into the 39th position by Lap 25. He would slowly work his way up the chart, making it as high as 36th before he lost third gear with eighty laps remaining in the race. Despite the setback, Papis would continue to push the #13 GEICO Camry and hustle to a 35th place finish when the checkered flag was displayed on Sunday afternoon. The goal for Papis and the GEICO team at the beginning of the year was to make the races, finish the races, and finish in the top 35 each week with improvement as the year goes on. Check the box.
"Today we worked hard to get the #13 GEICO Camry to where it needed to be, but I felt like I battled it for most of the day," Papis said. "This was a great experience coming here and we're learning a lot and it will help us continue to build our program and get me the seat time that's going to make me better." He continued, "Infineon Raceway is up next and I'm very excited to get the GEICO car up there, as I have some experience there and I've always enjoyed road courses."
Papis and the #13 GEICO Toyota Camry will hit the track at Infineon Raceway for the opening practice session on Friday, June 19th, at 3:00 PM (ET). Qualifying will follow at 6:35 PM (ET).
The Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, June 21st.