Papis to focus solely on Watkins Glen as Stewart fill-in

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Max Papis has started 35 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and ran the gamut of other racing series in his career (Formula One, CART/IndyCar and sports cars). But he’s never quite had an opportunity like this.

The 43-year-old Italian steps into one of NASCAR’s highest profile rides as the guy that fills in for Tony Stewart after a 521-race long consecutive start streak. For Papis, the chance is a blessing and one he intends to take full advantage of.

“I look at this as a great opportunity in terrible circumstances,” he said Wednesday in a media conference call. “The fact that I’m even considered is amazing; hundreds can drive this car but I always say, it’s not about the money, it’s about the story you write.”

Papis would have been able to remain committed to his GRAND-AM Rolex Series obligations at Elkhart Lake’s Road America this weekend if he wanted, but his GRAND-AM team boss Remo Ferri of the R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari team told him to focus solely on his NASCAR opportunity.

“I need to say thanks to Remo, he’s a longtime friend and we spoke about how we would do this,” Papis said. “I was ready to do both; we had everything in place to run the GRAND-AM race. I told him I’d be at the track for Thursday testing, back to Watkins Glen on Friday and Saturday, and fly back with Boris (Said) or someone for the race. They told me it was better to stay focused in the Watkins Glen in these difficult circumstances.”

Papis won the last GRAND-AM race in the GT class co-driving with Jeff Segal in the No. 61 F458 Italia at Indianapolis last month. An announcement on his replacement driver is expected later Wednesday or Thursday, and will be a familiar name to sports car racing observers.