Papis relishes opportunity under circumstances
August 07, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series organization has made no driver decisions beyond this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen International while co-owner/driver Tony Stewart recovers from a broken right leg.
“I think Tony has one more surgery that needs to be addressed,” Zipadelli said during a national teleconference Wednesday. “I think at that time, in the next 24 to 48 hours, we will have a much better idea of exactly what the healing process will be and will be able to do a better job of - is it six weeks or is it longer? Honestly we really do not have an answer for that right now.”
Stewart, 42, broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg when he crashed while competing in an American Sprint Car Series feature race Aug. 5 in Iowa. The three-time Cup champion underwent surgery early Tuesday morning and a second surgery will be necessary, according to team officials.
SHR officials have named Max Papis to drive the team’s No. 14 Chevrolet in this weekend’s Cheez-It 355 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN) Cup race. Papis tested the Watkins Glen car for SHR at Road Atlanta last month.
“We've got a few candidates and we're talking to a few people,” Zipadelli, crew chief during Stewart’s 10-year stint at Joe Gibbs Racing, said. “We've got a lot of people that have obviously reached out. We're not sure if we can put one person in until Tony gets back or we're going to have to do multiple people.
“Our main priority was … to get Max in here yesterday, get the seat and all the things that we needed to change in this car and get this car headed to Watkins Glen this afternoon, take care of all the stuff that we're doing now, and then we'll get behind some closed doors and kind of really decide who will be the best candidate for the 14 car and SHR to try and maintain what we can in owner's points.”
Stewart, a winner earlier this year at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, is 11th in points following a ninth-place finish at Pocono on Sunday. He currently holds the No. 1 position for those vying for one of two Wild Card spots in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The team is also 11th in owner points, which differ from driver points.
He had started 521 consecutive NASCAR Cup races, 10th-most all-time, since moving into the series in 1999. His only previous injury of note came in 2006 when he suffered a broken collarbone at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The following week, at Dover, Stewart started the race before turning the car over to relief driver Ricky Rudd.
Papis, 43, has 35 career starts at the Cup level, the last coming in 2010. He has two starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year and has a varied racing background that includes starts in open-wheel and sports car series in addition to stock cars.
“I don't look at this like a career‑changing something … I look at this like an amazing opportunity in a terrible circumstances, and that's it,” Papis said. “I'm just going to go out there and enjoy every lap I have, enjoy every second I have with the guys, and keep that seat warm for Smoke until he's going to come back.
“And who knows, maybe in the future we're going to have some laughs to share about what I did in this car or anything. You never know.
“I believe that sometimes if you push for opportunities, they don't come, and sometimes things come because of reasons. And again, the thing that I'm the most proud of … is the fact that I'm even considered about this opportunity. There are hundreds of guys out there that can drive this car, but I guess that - I always say it's not about the money you make, it's not about anything that you do, but it's about the story you write.
“And I guess that so far I've been writing a pretty decent story to get a call from Stewart‑Haas Racing.”
Papis was originally scheduled to compete with R. Ferri/AIM Autosport Racing in this weekend’s GRAND-AM Rolex Series race at Elkhart Lake, Wis. The team, with Papis and Jeff Segal co-driving, won last month’s Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Although plans were made for Papis to compete in both the GRAND-AM and Cup events, which are run on separate days, he said Remo Ferri “told me that he felt that it would have been a better thing for me to stay focused and help Stewart‑Haas Racing in this great opportunity for me and in this difficult circumstances.
“… So I'm sad I'm not going to be there, but I want to thank them for the opportunity and that they are going to let me stay focused on this.”