MAX PAPIS IMPRESSES IN PHOENIX; GEARED UP FOR FINAL RACE Avondale, AZ (November 15, 2009) -- A week ago, Max Papis and the GEICO Racing team left Texas Motor Speedway heartbroken that they did not qualify for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
MAX PAPIS IMPRESSES IN PHOENIX; GEARED UP FOR FINAL RACE
Avondale, AZ (November 15, 2009) -- A week ago, Max Papis and the GEICO Racing team left Texas Motor Speedway heartbroken that they did not qualify for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Some would ponder their disappointment, considering they had qualified for the previous six consecutive races. But those on the outside do not know the passion and enthusiasm of both Papis and the Germain Racing team.
Short-term memory may be the most important trait among racecar drivers and teams alike. No time to think about last week; time to move on. And that is exactly what Papis and the Germain Racing team planned to do when they arrived in Phoenix this weekend.
The first half of practice on Friday would not provide much hope for the GEICO team, but as the session came to a close, Papis picked up significantly and saw himself in the 42nd position. Despite the improvement, the #13 GEICO Toyota Camry sat ahead of only two 'go or go home cars'. Papis would need to beat three if he hoped to compete in Sunday's race.
At the conclusion of the first lap of his qualifying effort, television broadcasters predicted Papis' fate, indicating that given his current speed he would most likely not qualify for his second consecutive race. What they could not predict is what happened next. On his second qualifying lap, Papis picked up enough speed to not only make the field, but also to place the GEICO Camry 23rd on the starting grid. Heads turned as he picked up nearly 20 positions on the second lap. Taking the checkered flag, Papis voiced his excitement over the team's radio frequency while fans and fellow competitors applauded his valiant effort. He ended up as one of the fastest 'go or go home cars', falling victim only to 2000 Sprint Cup Series champion, Bobby Labonte, who qualified 20th.
Race day was met with clear, sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60's. After being featured in an ABC pre-race interview, Papis strapped into the GEICO Camry and prepared to educate himself on the 1-mile tri-oval of Phoenix International Raceway. Starting 23rd, Papis would slide to the rear of the field when the green flag was displayed so as not to interfere with the Chase contenders as the season winds down. By lap 22, the #13 GEICO Camry reached the 41st position and was ready to go to work. Unfortunately, smoke was seen coming from the car just 12 laps later, but it soon disappeared and Papis continued moving forward. He reached the 36th position by Lap 71, and narrowly avoided a crash involving Michael Waltrip, Robby Gordon and Elliott Sadler on the Lap 120 restart.
As his lap times continued to improve, GEICO Racing crew chief Bootie Barker offered Papis some encouragement on Lap 156. "Keep doing what you're doing! You've picked up a lot of speed and your lap times are good," Barker said.
Papis and the GEICO Camry would avoid peril by the narrowest of margins on Lap 170 when Phoenix International Raceway had its version of the 'big one'. Several racecars crashed and created a literal barricade across the racetrack. Papis steered the #13 GEICO Camry through the carnage and continued on his mission.
When the checkered flag waved over the Valley of the Sun, Papis and the #13 GEICO Camry managed to hustle to a 32nd place finish.
"I was able to learn a lot today and it will help tremendously when we come back here next year in the GEICO car," Papis said. "I'm happy we had a great qualifying effort and I'm glad to see the improvement that we're making each week. After missing Texas, it was important to come here this weekend and rebound. We showed our resilience and that we can recover quickly and do a good job. I'm proud of this GEICO team and I'm looking forward to getting to Homestead and finishing up the season on a good note."
Just one race remains in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. While many scratched their heads when Max Papis announced he would go Sprint Cup Series racing with little to no experience in either of NASCAR's lower two series, they now have clarity. As the season winds down, they are convinced that Papis belongs in NASCAR. Aside from being a fan favorite, he has gained the confidence of his fellow competitors and has managed to accomplish something that many drivers would have fallen short of. Papis has achieved success at stock car racing's highest level without the benefit of track time that other open-wheel racers who have made the transition have received.
Next week, Homestead, Florida, marks the final race of the season, as well as the final race of Papis and Germain Racing's successful debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Papis will hit the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the opening practice session on Friday, November 20th, at 11:30 AM (ET). Qualifying will follow at 3:10 PM (ET).
The Ford 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is on Sunday, November 22nd, and it will be televised live on ABC beginning at 2:30 PM (ET), while the Motor Racing Network (MRN) will carry the live radio broadcast.