GECKO BITES THE WALL IN ATLANTA; RICHMOND ON DECK Hampton, GA -- Max Papis and the GEICO team arrived in Atlanta looking to redeem themselves from a heartbreaking miss in Bristol two weeks earlier. With a new crew chief on-board, hope was...
GECKO BITES THE WALL IN ATLANTA; RICHMOND ON DECK
Hampton, GA -- Max Papis and the GEICO team arrived in Atlanta looking to redeem themselves from a heartbreaking miss in Bristol two weeks earlier. With a new crew chief on-board, hope was abound and both Papis and the Germain Racing team were nothing if not focused.
When the opening practice session got underway, Papis would run only a race set-up while the other 'go or go home' cars sported qualifying set-ups. Consequently, Papis rested in the 43rd spot when practice ended. Unfortunately, bad weather began to rear its ugly head, as rain began to set in towards the end of practice. It would not last long and would ultimately clear prior to the start of the final practice session.
Final practice followed immediately and Papis and the #13 GEICO Camry picked things up quickly. He instantly shot to the top of the board and sat as high as 8th before ending up 20th at the close of the final session. Among the 'go or go home' cars, Papis rested 4th among the eleven cars forced to qualify on time, a considerable improvement from the opening practice.
Qualifying found Papis and the #13 GEICO Camry going out 44th of the 46 cars entered, allowing for cooler track temperatures and the opportunity to give the Gecko a fast tour of the high-banked racetrack. Papis made quick work of the 1.54-mile quad-oval and turned a lap of 30.885 seconds, putting him in the 39th position. Unfortunately, due to a NASCAR rule affecting the last 'go or go home' car to make it into the race, Papis would have to start the race from the rear of the field. Although Papis outpaced Terry Labonte in qualifying, Labonte is a previous champion, therefore forcing the #13 GEICO Camry to the 43rd starting position.
Under clear skies and warm temperatures, Papis took the green flag in front of a full house at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He would quickly move forward and by Lap 26 he had moved the #13 GEICO Camry into the 40th position. The event's first caution flag would be displayed on Lap 36 after Sam Hornish, Jr, spun on the frontstretch, allowing Papis to bring the GEICO Camry down pit road for service.
After taking on four tires and fuel, Papis took the green flag in the 38th position on Lap 41. He radioed in to crew chief Bootie Barker that the car was getting better. Unfortunately, the caution flag waved again on Lap 60 when Sam Hornish, Jr, once again spun on the frontstretch. Papis brought the #13 GEICO Camry down pit road on Lap 62 where he once again took on four tires and fuel. The GEICO pit crew worked hard and quick, sending Papis back out onto the racetrack in 36th position after coming down pit road in 39th.
On Lap 101, Papis nipped the wall in Turn 2 when his front right tire gave way. Fortunately, he was able to maneuver the GEICO Camry down pit road without brining out the caution flag. Consequently, the stop was made under green flag conditions. The Germain Racing team would furnish Papis with fresh rubber and return him quickly to the racing surface on Lap 102.
Unfortunately, just two laps later, Papis' would once again fall victim to his right front tire, but this time it would send Papis crashing hard into the wall. Papis would do his best to get the #13 GEICO Camry off the racetrack and back into the garage area. Upon inspection of the racecar it was determined that the race was over for the GEICO team.
Papis was able to climb safely from the GEICO car, but had visibly taken a hard hit. He managed to muster up a smile and said, "When I hit, I hit so hard that when I came around the track I saw two pit roads. I had to close one of my eyes just so I could see the right road to go down." He also took a hard hit to his elbow and quickly applied ice to the injured area.
Despite being in pain, Papis quickly changed into his street clothes, grabbed a radio and headed off to Turn 1 to watch the remainder of the race in hopes of learning something that will benefit him as he continues to develop as a NASCAR driver.
When all was said and done, Papis and the GEICO team were relegated to a 40th place finish; three positions to the good from where they started.
"Although we ended up out of the race early, it was a really good night for the GEICO team," Papis said. "Bootie (Barker, crew chief) made some great changes and the car was getting a lot better and I could feel the difference. This weekend was really positive and we are for sure headed in the right direction. I'm looking forward to getting to Richmond next week and getting on a ?-mile racetrack."
Papis and the #13 GEICO Camry's next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race will come this week when they travel to Richmond, VA.
Papis will hit the track at Richmond International Raceway for the opening practice session at noon (ET) on Friday, September 11th. Qualifying will follow at 5:40 PM (ET).