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This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the third to last race in this year’s Chase for the Cup. By this point, everyone except the 12 Chase teams are preparing for 2009, experimenting with new setups and personnel.
Many drivers with limited Sprint Cup experience, including Joey Logano, Bryan Clauson, and Brad Keselowski, are attempting to make starts this weekend in preparation for next year.
However, one of the most intriguing driver-team combinations attempting to make the race this weekend is Max Papis with Germain Racing.
Papis, a former CART competitor who made two starts for Haas CNC Racing earlier this year, will drive the No. 13 GEICO Toyota for Germain in 18 Sprint Cup races next year, and possibly attempt up to 25 depending upon sponsorship. Papis will also attempt to qualify at Homestead, regardless of whether he makes the race this weekend or not.
This is the next natural step in Germain’s progression from the Truck Series up to NASCAR’s top level. Formed in late 2004, the No. 30 team has consistently been one of the series’ best, winning the championship in 2006 with Todd Bodine. The team added a second truck in 2005 and a Nationwide Series team in 2007, experiencing success with both.
Currently, Mike Wallace has the No. 7 Nationwide team eighth in the points. In the Truck Series, Bodine has the No. 30 third in the standing, and Justin Marks has impressed in the No. 9, winning a pole at Texas and finishing eighth at Daytona.
Bodine also made one Nationwide start (at Darlington) for the team in a second car this year, finishing fourth. In other words, the brothers Germain—Bob, Stephen, and Richard—have managed to make all of their cars competitive, regardless of who’s in them or how often they compete.
With its expansion into Cup racing with Papis, Germain has picked the optimum time to move up the ladder. With many teams pressed for sponsorship in a difficult economic climate, the Sprint Cup field should be shrinking next year.
It should be much easier for a team that doesn’t plan on attempting all 36 races to make the most of its limited schedule.
Germain also has never expanded beyond its means to be competitive. While the 2005 season was a trying one for the second truck, much of that was based on Shige Hattori’s lack of stock-car experience. While Ted Musgrave only won one race in the No. 9 truck in 2006 and 2007, he also had 28 top-10s in 49 starts for the team and two top-10 finishes in points.
The team only moved up to the Nationwide Series after establishing a strong foundation with Bodine. In the five races they ran in 2007, the team had an average finish of 17.8 (negatively affected by a crash at Homestead that led to a 37th place finish) and led 15 laps at Gateway.
They also waited to move up until they found the right driver (Wallace) and sponsor (GEICO)]. The team has carved its niche in the series, despite many wins and top finishes going to Cup “claim jumpers” running in both series.
Even with the recent trend of open-wheel flameouts, don’t expect Papis to disappear in the first year of his four-year contract with the team. Papis, unlike some of the other open-wheel drivers, has been successful in many different forms of motorsport. He won a handful of CART races in the late 1990's with Team Rahal and has driven for Corvette Racing at Le Mans. He also won the 2002 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
Papis has also had his share of remarkable and memorable drives in other series. He nearly won the 1996 24 Hours of Daytona in a car that had been damaged by collisions. After unlapping himself in the final stint of the race, Papis pushed his car to the limit, only losing by 64 seconds at a track in which fast laps can take nearly 2 minutes.
In other words, though we’ve all heard this before, Papis has the talent to succeed in a limited schedule with Germain. And unlike Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, Sam Hornish, and A.J. Allmendinger, he has the team behind him to do it.
Before the green flag drops on this weekend’s festivities, here are this week’s Quick Hits.
5. There are a few interesting notes from Motorsports Authentics’ sell sheets for 2009 die-cast.
At Stewart Haas Racing, Burger King is featured on the B-pillar of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet. Also, DirecTV is featured on the B-pillar of Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet. It is no longer on the No. 07 Chevrolet of Casey Mears.
At Gillett Evernham Motorsports, McDonald’s has vacated its post on the lower quarter panel of Elliott Sadler’s No. 19 Dodge. Allstate is also gone from the lower quarter panel of Kasey Kahne’s No. 9 Dodge.
Finally, Scott Speed will run a No. 82 Red Bull Toyota next year, as opposed to a No. 84. No word on why the change occurred.
4. A recent rumor suggests that Wood Brothers Racing is looking around the garage for a new partner after JTG Daugherty Racing’s defection to Toyota for 2009. That partnership could come in the form of a deal with Hall of Fame Racing, which currently fields Toyotas for former Wood Brothers' driver Ken Schrader.
Hall of Fame would also bring a top-flight sponsorship, in the form of Texas Instruments, and a young talent in Brad Coleman to the partnership. Hall of Fame’s current deal with Joe Gibbs Racing expires after Homestead.
3. No Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender has finished in the top 10 all season. Sam Hornish Jr.’s 13th in the Coca Cola 600 is the best finish for any contender. Aric Almirola’s eighth at Bristol does not apply, as he is not registered for the award. Regan Smith’s win at Talladega, had it been upheld, would have been the only top 10.
2. While Kyle Petty has been unable to lay down any serious Sprint Cup plans for next year, he may have a full time Rolex Sports Car Series deal in place for 2009. Petty will run the No. 45 Orbit Racing BMW Prototype at next year’s 24 Hours of Daytona, and potentially beyond.
No word yet on if the Wells Fargo sponsorship currently tied to Petty in Sprint Cup would transfer with him, remain in NASCAR, or both.
1. Kodak is leaving the sport after a successful sponsorship campaign that spanned over two decades and produced three Daytona 500 wins. Drivers like Ernie Irvan, Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hamilton, and most recently Ryan Newman have piloted the gold cars for Morgan-McClure Motorsports and Penske Racing from the late 1980s to this year.
Kodak will also abandon its sponsorship programs in all other forms of motorsports, including those in the Rolex Sports Car Series and Indy Racing League.
Finally, congratulations to Newman for winning last weekend’s Truck Series race at Atlanta, and Carl Edwards for winning the Nationwide race in Memphis and Atlanta’s Sprint Cup event.