Max Papis climbed behind the wheel of the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet Impala for the Bucyrus 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Papis qualified on the outside pole for the 50-lap event, the first of three road course races for the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season, but a late-race accident relegated the team to a disappointing 23rd-place finish.
The green flag waved Saturday afternoon sending the 43-car field roaring into the first of 14 turns along the course. In the opening laps, Papis settled into the third position and relayed to his Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) crew that his Menards Chevrolet had been tight from the start.
The first caution of the day on lap six provided the No. 33 team an opportunity for adjustments. Crew chief David Hyder called for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to improve the handling of the Chevrolet.
Papis took the lap 10 restart from the eighth position but was able to quickly advance to the fourth position before the field came across the frontstretch on lap 11.
NASCAR called the second full-course caution on lap 21 with Papis running in the second position. As the field slowed and made their way through the turns towards the front of the course, the Italian-born driver radioed to his team that the Menards Chevrolet did not have a lot of grip. He also said that the No. 33 seemed to become tight in the center of the turns on the long runs, and more tight turning left than right. Hyder brought Papis to pit road for four tires, fuel and an additional chassis adjustment to help the tight-handling issues.
As Papis wheeled the No. 33 off pit road, NASCAR relayed that he would have to start from the tail end of the longest line as a penalty for driving through more than three pit stalls before entering his own stall. The KHI team remained positive and when the race returned to green-flag conditions on lap 25, Papis powered the Chevrolet through the field charging from 23rd to the 12th position by lap 27.
Just as the driver reached the 12th position the third caution flag waved. Papis relayed to Hyder that the car was much better than before and that he was very happy with the adjustments the team had made on the previous stop. Given the driver’s satisfaction with the car, the team opted to remain on track restarting in the 11th position on lap 30.
Papis continued to make his way to front of the field and was running in the eighth position as green-flag pit stops began with less than 20 laps to go in the event. On lap 34, the No. 33 team signaled for Papis to come to pit road for a fuel-only stop.
Back on track, the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet moved ahead one position at a time. With four laps remaining to the end, Papis was running in the fourth position when the vehicle in front of him spun off the course bringing out the fourth caution. The No. 33 avoided any contact and stayed off of pit road for the first attempt at the green-white-checkered finish.
NASCAR waved the green flag on lap 50 and Papis found himself in a tight battle with the No. 22 car for the fourth position. In the middle of the four-mile course, the No. 22 car made contact with the No. 33 machine sending it into the gravel and into the outside wall, bringing out the fifth full-course caution of the day and setting up a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
Track safety crews towed the Menards Chevrolet out of the gravel, and Papis was able to drive to pit road where the KHI team worked quickly to made sufficient repairs in order to send the driver back on the course and finish the race. The race returned to green only to see the caution flag wave before the field could reach the white flag. Out of green-white-checkered attempts, the race concluded under yellow with Papis running in the 23rd position.
The No. 33 KHI team heads to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the second time this season. Clint Bowyer will return to the driver’s seat for the NASCAR Nationwide Series 17th race on Friday night. Bowyer and the KHI team collected a second-place finish at Daytona in February after starting from the pole. Watch the action live on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. ET.