PAPIS DEBUT NETS TOP 10; LAS VEGAS AWAITS 'MAD' MAX Fontana, CA (February 21, 2009) -- While most of NASCAR was present in Daytona for the season opener a week ago, 'Mad' Max Papis debuted his 2009 GEICO team this weekend in Fontana, California.
PAPIS DEBUT NETS TOP 10; LAS VEGAS AWAITS 'MAD' MAX
Fontana, CA (February 21, 2009) -- While most of NASCAR was present in Daytona for the season opener a week ago, 'Mad' Max Papis debuted his 2009 GEICO team this weekend in Fontana, California. The 2004 Grand-Am Series Champion was behind the wheel of the #9 GEICO Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the first of six Truck Series races scheduled for him in 2009.
Less than a week removed from welcoming home his second son, Matteo, after his wife Tatiana gave birth on Valentine's Day, Papis departed for Southern California hoping to gain valuable experience. He was looking for insight that would prepare him as he embarks on a 20-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule that begins next week in Las Vegas.
Papis, who is beginning a new four-year deal with GEICO and Germain Racing, has raced at Auto Club Speedway many times in his open-wheel career and counts it among his favorite venues. While racing open-wheel cars at the 2-mile facility, Papis would wheel around the track at speeds approaching 250 miles per hour. When Truck Series practice began on Thursday, the speeds would be significantly slower as he attempted to adapt to a racing series where he is largely unproven.
Papis would rest 18th and 19th on the speed charts in the respective practice sessions. He would not so much as even make a qualifying run during practice in exchange for logging laps and getting comfortable with his new surroundings. Qualifying found Papis making himself at home, as he took the Gecko on a ride that lasted just 42.228 seconds and was good enough for the 10th starting position for the San Bernardino County 200.
Starting 10th, Papis would immediately get out of the way when the green flag dropped and take time to get comfortable on the racetrack. He would slide back to the 21st position before working his way back into the Top 15. In a race that included just two caution flags for eight laps, Papis did not have time to waste. With only 100 laps on the docket, he would need to be meticulous in his approach and gain ground on the field quickly.
On several occasions, Papis would remove himself from risky situations and choose to be patient rather than chance sustaining damage to his #9 GEICO Tundra. Patience would pay off when the race began to wind down and 'Mad' Max went into effect. He was running in the 7th position before a green flag pit stop sent him down pit road on lap 91. The #9 GEICO Tundra would re-emerge on the racing surface in the 14th position with just 9 laps remaining. Papis made quick work of the field and by lap 93 he was the fastest truck on the track, and lap 98 found him in the Top 10. GEICO would not wait long for their first 2009 Top 10 finish, as Papis would seal the deal two laps later and bring the Gecko home in the 10th position.
"This is a great day for our GEICO team because we were able to get the experience we were looking for and also give GEICO a Top 10 finish in the first race of our new deal," a smiling Papis said. "This is a fun day to share with our team and sponsor, but tomorrow we're back to business and preparing for Las Vegas. We're going one race at a time and getting better each week. The Germain guys did a great job and I thank them for all of their hard work. I love these guys and with hard work and commitment we're going to do great things together."
Along for the ride with Papis was a decal bearing the initials of Bryant Cornell Sheppard, the son of Hoover High School (Alabama) athletic trainer Brandon Sheppard. Bryant passed away unexpectedly on January 31st at just three months of age. Hoover High School's football team is featured on MTV's hit reality show, 'Two-A-Days'. Brandon and his wife Marci were on-hand in Fontana to witness their son's initials zipping around the 2-mile track at the hands of Papis and his teammate Todd Bodine, who also sported the baby blue ribbon with 'BCS' across the middle.
"It was an honor having the Sheppard family here with us today and I'm glad that I was able to give them a Top 10 finish in memory of their son, Bryant. These things are so much more important than racing and it makes you realize the specials things in life. I enjoyed the time I got to spend with them and I hope that I was able to give them some joy today."
Next week, Papis will hop in his #13 GEICO Toyota Camry at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first of 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races slated for 2009 with the Germain Racing team.