“Pap slap” enters the vernacular after Nationwide race (VIDEO)

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Max Papis made his debut in North America in the 1996 24 Hours of Daytona with a drive in a Ferrari 333 SP prototype that went gone down in endurance racing lore. It gave birth to the nickname “Mad Max.”

On Saturday, Papis gave birth to another nickname – the “Pap slap” – after he slapped fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Billy Johnson (pictured) following the Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Elkhart Lake’s Road America.

Johnson had contacted Papis earlier in the race and on pit lane afterwards, the Italian expressed his displeasure. But he walked off with a grin that made it seem like it was more lighthearted than originally intended.

I had the chance to speak to Johnson after the race – with the handslap unbeknownst to me – because he’d driven a sterling race regardless.

Johnson’s race for Roush Fenway Racing included leading early, a pit speeding penalty that dropped him to the mid-30s, and a comeback to the lead before the two late-race incidents with Papis and later Regan Smith.

“We had a car that could have contended for the win,” Johnson said. I made a mistake, fell to dead, dead last. We were like 36th or something, then drove straight through the field in less than 10 laps, it showed what the Ford Ecoboost 16 team. My car got into the 7, took us out, he was along for the ride. Earlier in the race, it happens.

“It’s a road course. There’s three-wide stacking up. A lot of contact happens. I got into the back of Max Papis, he was a  little over reactive, and he had some words and fists with me. It was a bit unfortunate; a crazy race. We showed a lot of speed and showed we had what it took to win.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”