Max Papis, driving in place of the injured Tony Stewart, turned in a strong performance by finishing 15th in the 355k at The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Behind the wheel of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Papis twice raced through the field, first from his 29th-place starting spot and a second time after a lap-44 spin induced by Greg Biffle left him 33rd in the 43-car field.
Papis, the affable Italian who has experience in Formula One, Indy cars, sports cars and NASCAR, made Stewart proud in his 36th career Sprint Cup start and fourth at Watkins Glen. Papis picked up six positions before getting spun by Biffle in the Inner Loop on lap 44.
But then Papis rallied from 33rd to finish 15th, deftly snaking his way through two multi-car accidents in The Esses in the last 10 laps that sent many of his counterparts to the garage.
“It felt like (the movie) ‘Days of Thunder’ two times going up there … it was all blocked. It was pretty crazy,” Papis said. “I drove the wheels off the car every lap. Every restart I was in the middle, two-wide, three-wide. These guys are all really good. There was not a second of driving around at 90 percent. It was all the time 100 percent.”
Papis’ effort kept the No. 14 car 11th in the series’ owner standings with 623 points, 185 behind the series-leading No. 48 team of Hendrick Motorsports. Stewart, out of the car for the first time in his 15-year Sprint Cup career – a span of 521 races – dropped to 17th in points. He has 594 points, 214 out of first and 31 behind 10th-place Martin Truex Jr.
“Super proud of keeping the seat of Smoke (Stewart) as warm as I could,” said Papis, who won the 2004 Sahlen’s Sports Car Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in the Daytona Prototype division of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.
“We never gave up, and that is the spirit Tony wanted us to have. We came from almost last and drove up through the middle of the field. We fought really hard, and I drove the best I could.
“It was a pleasure to be a part of this organization, and everything felt really good. Tony, you built a great team, everyone missed you, and you don’t know how much love there is around for you. Thank you for the opportunity.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation 30th Anniversary Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished just ahead of Papis in 14th to earn his seventh top-15 in 12 career Sprint Cup starts at Watkins Glen.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 20th. It was Patrick’s 32nd career Sprint Cup start and her first at Watkins Glen.
Kyle Busch won the 355k at The Glen to score his 27th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his second at Watkins Glen.
Brad Keselowski finished .486 of a second behind Busch in the runner-up spot, while Truex, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 21 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 90-lap race.
With round 22 of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He moved up one spot to 14th and has 605 points, 203 back of series leader Johnson and 20 out of the top-10. Patrick maintained her 27th-place standing and has 397 points, 411 behind Johnson and 228 away from 10th.
Four races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase.
Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kasey Kahne, who is 12th in points, holds the first wild card via his two wins. Newman is the second wild card because he is the highest-standing driver between 11th and 20th with a victory.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished two spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 18th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday, Aug. 18 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at noon.