Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that versatile Max Papis will take over its No. 14 Chevrolet for this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, following Tony Stewart's leg-breaking crash in a sprint car race earlier this week. The IndyCar, F1, sports car and NASCAR racer has 35 career Sprint Cup starts, and scored his career best finish of eighth at the Glen in 2009. His most recent NASCAR start was in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series at Tours Speedway in France, where he finished second on July 6.
Wednesday, he and Greg Zipadelli, Competition Director for Stewart-Haas Racing, met the media to discuss his debut with the team.
Q: Greg, walk us through how you selected Max to drive this weekend.
GREG ZIPADELLI: Max and I have worked together in the past when I was at JGR with Joey (Logano). He helped us and went to Road Atlanta test with us and helped, and then Steve Addington and the 14 car wanted to do a Road Atlanta test about two weeks ago, and we reached out to Max, and he was able to do it. Tony had some commitments and was going to come down the second day.
They had the car that we're racing, the primary car at Road Atlanta. We tested it with Max. He did a really good job. Steve felt like he had a good relationship with Max. They communicated well. So in all honesty it was a perfect shoo-in for us, because as I said, we had been working together recently. There was also a little dialogue between Steve and Max. I've had a relationship with Max for a while now, so we just felt like it was our best bet to be able to communicate well over the weekend and get the most out of the car that we could.
Q: Max, what were your first impressions of Stewart-Haas Racing as you tested with the team back on July 30 at Road Atlanta?
MAX PAPIS: Yeah, first of all, I want to wish Tony a quick recovery. I mean, he had odd circumstances, and it's never good that something like this is happening. But obviously I was here in Stewart-Haas Racing like a long time ago when I actually raced for Haas Racing in Sonoma, and I was just a part of the test schedule, to go there and help them out, and obviously when the situation with Tony arose, I felt that if they needed my help, I was here and I was available.
I know I have the confidence and the ability to go out there and do the best for them. I called Zippy and I told him if you need my help I am going to be here and available, and I let go and let the Lord take care of everything else.
Q: Zippy, I'm just wondering, you guys have just basically talked about this weekend. Is there any way to talk about what you're expecting beyond this weekend? Are you thinking that Tony could come back any time soon? Is this going to be something that takes weeks or months, or what's a general timeline?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, I don't think we have a timeline right now. I think Tony has one more surgery that needs to be addressed. 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. As soon as we do, we will try and do a good job of keeping everybody updated of what it looks like.
As far as next week and on, we've got a few candidates and we're talking to a few people. 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 this was such short notice, and it 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. That's all I have for you right now.
Q: But it is something that you're looking at that's going to take at least a few weeks?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Absolutely, absolutely. It's a few weeks, so we need the next two or three weeks lined up, and that's what we're going to start working on this afternoon or tomorrow, and as soon as we have something, I promise we'll do our best to get it out to you. But there's nothing there now. It's taken us all day yesterday – we were in Atlanta for the tire test, had to wake up pilots, get on a plane yesterday morning, fly home. We didn't get to the shop until 8:30 by the time we landed. Honestly we were just a little bit behind all day, and Watkins Glen and dealing with our sponsors and making sure that they were all on board and doing everything we can to make the best of a bad situation. So like I said, as soon as we get done with this, we'll start working on the next few weeks.
Q: There's been so much speculation: What is your position on Tony racing in all these extracurricular things?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Hey, it's a tough one. We all know that. We all know Tony loves to do those races. We know that that's his golf game, that's his hunting, his fishing, all the things that the rest of us do. You know, there is a difference in the amount of responsibility we have and obligations to other people, and that's where I think that's kind of where it gets sticky.
I think it makes him better at what he does here, but it obviously leaves the door open for a situation that we're in now. I think that as many races as he's run in the past, we're probably lucky that this is the first time we're dealing with this to be perfectly honest with you. You know, we'll do our best at Stewart-Haas to put pieces together and sit down and evaluate it. I would be a lot easier to look at and talk about things right now because we're in the situation that we're in moving forward.
That doesn't mean anything other than we will talk about it, we'll discuss it and we'll try and do what's best for Stewart-Haas and our partners in the future.