PAPIS SEIZES OPPORTUNITY IN VEGAS A week removed from recording a Top 10 finish in the ...
PAPIS SEIZES OPPORTUNITY IN VEGAS
A week removed from recording a Top 10 finish in the #9 GEICO Tundra in Fontana, the education of Max Papis continued this weekend in Las Vegas. His 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was met with goals and challenges imposed by 'Mad' Max himself. He was not without support, as racing's best routinely visited the 'rookie' in his garage stall.
When the 2004 Grand-Am Series champion hit the track for practice on Friday, he settled right in. By the end of the session, he was 37th on the speed charts and eyeing a much anticipated qualifying session. In a city where luck often betrays you, it was on Papis' side, as the qualifying draw found him being the final car to attempt to qualify for the Shelby 427.
Papis would not fail to impress, as he toured the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval in 29.352 seconds, at a rate of speed of 183.974 miles per hour; good enough for the 26th starting position. With 51 cars scheduled to qualify, Papis would show total resolve and out-qualify half the field, including NASCAR superstars Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Jeff Gordon.
Prior to the race, Papis would offer an emotional interview on FOX that will more than likely earn him the bulk of NASCAR's fan base. On his way to driver introductions, Papis would exclaim, "I am so happy to be here". He would then lie in the grass and enjoy the sights and sounds that NASCAR offers and arise to a crowd cheering his enthusiasm. He is nothing if not passionate and on Sunday it was on display for the world to see.
During the parade laps, Papis thanked his crew, as well as his sponsor GEICO for the great opportunity afforded him. Seriousness filled his voice and he was prepared to go to work. Papis indicated that he would race hard, but keep his #13 GEICO Camry clean and stay focused on logging as many laps as possible and finishing the race. Understanding that he cannot get experience if his car is parked in the garage, Papis bit his tongue and slid back as the race began. He would settle in and continue his NASCAR learning experience.
Unfortunately, on Lap 180 Papis would radio in that the #13 GEICO Camry had a bad vibration. Crew chief Mike Hillman would bring him down pit road on Lap 187 to inspect the #13 GEICO Camry. They would change four tires and send Papis back to the racing surface, however the vibration would persist. Lap 188 found the #13 GEICO Camry visiting the garage looking for resolution. Papis would rejoin the field on Lap 213, however he would be forced to battle the vibration for the remainder of the day. When Mike Hillman inquired as to Papis's status on the track, an enthusiastic voice returned with, "The vibration is not good, but this is a great experience and we'll keep learning here today. This is really cool, man. Really special to be running with these guys."
What Papis did not realize at the time, is that he was truly 'running with those guys'. Even with a persistent vibration, he was turning lap times comparative with cars that were running in the Top 10.
At the end of the day, Papis would finish the Shelby 427 in the 36th position, 27 laps down. His first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was a success and he managed to keep a clean car when the majority were scratched and beaten. As was mentioned on the radio broadcast, 'Mad' Max did a good job today and has a great future in NASCAR.
"Today was a great day for the GEICO team and we're proud to have accomplished our goals," Papis said after climbing from the #13 GEICO Camry. "The vibration hurt us, but we were able to gain valuable experience and now we will have a solid foundation when we head to Texas for our next Cup race." He continued, "Thanks so much to GEICO and this Germain Racing team for giving me this opportunity. I know my father is looking down on us and is very proud. This was a special weekend."
Papis has received a warm welcome from all of his NASCAR peers, and this was evidenced when he hopped on a helicopter after the race and flew home with Jimmy Johnson on his private jet.
Papis is in NASCAR and everyone loves it.
Next week, Papis will be back in the #9 GEICO Toyota Tundra at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second of six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races slated for 2009 with the Germain Racing team. His first outing in the GEICO Tundra netted a Top 10 finish in Fontana.
Papis will hit the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the opening practice session on Friday, March 6th, 11:30 AM (ET).