While he doesn't like the circumstances surrounding how he came to occupy the seat, Max Papis is relishing the prospect of wheeling a car normally driven by Tony Stewart
"I woke up this morning and I told my kids, ‘Guys, Poppy is going to go out there and drive for Tony Stewart,'" Papis said Friday at Watkins Glen. "That is something we are going to talk about in the year to come."
Stewart is recuperating from a broken leg sustained in a sprint car crash Monday at a dirt track in Iowa and will miss a minimum of three races.
That Papis was selected to drive at Watkins Glen was no surprise. He tested Stewart's car a week ago at Road Atlanta, and with a pronounced background in road racing, he was the natural choice to fill in.
"He had done some road course testing recently, about two weeks ago, in the No. 14 car," said Greg Zipadeli, Stewart-Haas Racing's competition director. "There was a little bit of a database built. A little communication had already been started and we felt like that was our best option for this weekend."
Originally, Papis was scheduled to compete in a Grand-Am Series race at Road America and planned on commuting between the two tracks. But knowing the opportunity he was being afforded to drive for Stewart, his sports car team told him to focus solely on NASCAR.
And while he appreciated the consideration his Ferrari team gave him, Papis would have preferred honoring both commitments.
"I thought (it) would have been a pretty cool deal to run both," he said. "I kind of feel a little bit like an old-style-generation guy in a way. For me, I admire people like Mario Andretti, people like A.J. Foyt, people like Tony Stewart that can drive anything any day."
Watkins Glen will be Papis' 36th start in NASCAR's premiere division and his first in three years. The 2.45-mile course was the site of his best finish in a Cup race when he placed eighth in the 2009 event. He sees this weekend as a reward in a career that's seen him race in Formula One, IndyCar and various sports car series around the globe.
"I hope that Tony will be back soon because that is actually his car," Papis said. "It's just an honor to be able to be called by an organization like Stewart-Haas and fill the shoes of Tony. It was not really a dream come true, but it was more like recognition towards all the work that I've done so far in my career."