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Max Papis tested last week at Road Atlanta for Stewart-Haas Racing in preparation for this Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International. Now, he'll put that information directly to use -- by driving Tony Stewart's No. 14 car in the road course event.
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that Papis would replace Stewart for Sunday's event on the 2.45-mile road course. A three-time champion of NASCAR's premier series, Stewart broke both bones in his lower right leg Monday night in a sprint car event in Iowa, and is out indefinitely after having surgery to repair the damage.
Stewart will need a second surgery to repair the fracture and will remain hospitalized for observation, according to the team. In missing Watkins Glen, Stewart will also see a streak of 521 consecutive starts at the Sprint Cup level come to an end. The 41-year-old has not missed a race in his full-time career at NASCAR's top level, which dates back to 1999.
A message from Stewart to his fans was posted on the driver's Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, reading, "I told someone to go get my phone or else I was going to get up and get it myself. Finally got reconnected to the world and just want to say thank you for all the prayers and well wishes. My team will remain strong and I will be back."
Stewart has five career victories at Watkins Glen, a Sprint Cup record for the facility. A former Formula One and IndyCar driver who now competes primarily in the Grand-Am Sports Car Series, Papis scored his best career finish on NASCAR's premier series at Watkins Glen in 2008, when he finished eighth. That result is his lone top-10 in 35 career Sprint Cup starts.
Stewart broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg Monday night in a sprint car crash at Southern Iowa Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in Oskaloosa. The Des Moines Register reported that Stewart was leading the Front Row Challenge winged sprint car event with five laps remaining when another car spun and collected the top three drivers. Stewart was transported from the facility via ambulance, the newspaper added.
Monday night's accident was the latest in a string of spills Stewart has taken in sprint cars in recent weeks. On July 17, he was involved in a 15-car pileup at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park that sent a 19-year-old female driver to the hospital. Last Monday night at Ohsweken Speedway in Ontario, Canada, he was racing for the lead when his vehicle flipped five times. Stewart maintains close ties to his short-track roots by scheduling about 70 sprint car races per year.
Watkins Glen will mark Papis' first start at the Sprint Cup level since he finished 41st at Michigan in the late summer of 2010. The 43-year-old native of Como, Italy, also has three top-five finishes on the Nationwide Series, all of them in road races at Montreal or Road America. The team posted the following photo on Instagram Tuesday afternoon with the caption "@MaxPapis gets fitted in #TonyStewart's No. 14 Chevy in preparation for Watkins Glen. #NASCAR"
Stewart's injury also led SHR to cancel a test planned for Tuesday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is not yet known how long he might be out of the car, or who might pilot the No. 14 beyond Watkins Glen.
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