Patrick Carpentier and his daughter wave to the crowd at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, where his turnaround began (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
For Patrick Carpentier this may be judgment week: is he doing the job?
The Montreal native, who is making a racing comeback this season, in NASCAR no less, after most of his career in open-wheel, may sport the biggest smile in the sport.
And he’s incurably upbeat, despite setbacks that might get a lesser man down.
But then this is a performance business, and will Carpentier’s numbers be enough to keep him in the seat of George Gillett’s and Ray Evernham’s Dodges?
Carpentier by the numbers:
He ran second in NASCAR’s rain-marred Nationwide event at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last weekend, and he’ll be on a road course again this weekend at Watkins Glen. He’s averaging a 25th place start and a 30th place finish on the Cup tour, and he’s made 17 of the 21 events, sitting 37th in the standings. He’s has his two best runs of the season in the past few weeks, a 14th at Daytona and an 18th at Indianapolis. Last weekend at Pocono Terry Labonte took the ride while Carpentier was in Montreal, and Labonte ‘benchmarked’ the car with a 32nd place finish, and a 25th place start.
For comparison, last year Scott Riggs, now in his fifth season on the tour, was in this ride, and at this point of the season he was 36th in the standings, after making 17 of the 21 events.
Tony Stewart and rookie Patrick Carpentier at Indianapolis (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
So what happens next? “We’re going to find that out around August 15th ,” Carpentier says. “I really hope it comes out positive.
“I think Gillett Evernham is pretty happy. Most of the sponsors that were at our sponsor summit in Montreal last weekend were happy. Valvoline, LifeLock, Auto Value, all our sponsors seem to be happy.
“I hope they are happy enough to keep me for next year…and I hope Gillett Evernham is happy as well, because I like being here, and I like driving this car.
“We’ve improved so much since the beginning of the year….
“There are so many things—but patience is so important. I’ve learned you have to be so smooth. In qualifying you can be tough on the car and drive it pretty hard, but once you go racing you can drive it hard but you have to be really, really smooth and let the car do the work.
“You have to let the car do what it wants.”
Time to sweat for rookie Patrick Carpentier, here running at Sonoma (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
For Carpentier this run could make or break his comeback.
“Last year Watkins Glen was the first race we had led some laps,” he says. “We had a good race. I went off-track a couple of times. But the car was fast.
“The last five or six races Dodge has given me a really good engine. We’ve had some good power coming out of the corners, and I’ve really been happy with the engine’s performance.”
Carpentier also plans to run Saturday’s Nationwide race at the Glen…and Carpentier needs all the laps he can get: “There are so many tricks you have to learn in these Cup cars. At Loudon I gained four-tenths per lap by just driving differently and using different race lines (in the Nationwide race), and it actually worked during the Sprint Cup race. In the Cup race at Loudon we actually stayed with the leaders until we had a brake problem.”
Patrick Carpentier waves to fans prior to the NASCAR Nationwide 200 in Montreal Saturday at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Would you run 150 mph in the rain like this—on eight-year-old tires? Jacques Villeneuve, the former World Champion, did in NASCAR’s Nationwide race in Montreal…here just moments before he crashed.(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Road courses, Carpentier says, are fun, even Montreal in the rain. “I just wish the conditions would have been a little bit better, because I know that Ron Fellows (the winner, when the race was stopped 60 miles short of the scheduled finish) didn’t have enough fuel to go all the way to the end of the race,” Carpentier said.
“We had already made our pit stop, and our car was great after we made the stop, even a few seconds faster a lap than he was.
“But anytime you can finish in the top-three in that series, you’ve had a pretty good day. I was really happy that we actually had a race. The fans stayed despite the rain. The drivers did a good job, and we didn’t have too many yellow flags.”
The Nationwide cars are different than the Cup cars, so Carpentier has tested for the Glen at Road Atlanta, “and hopefully we’ll get a better result than we did in Sonoma.”
Pressure? The guy seems to thrive on it. And, hey, he’s proven to be a darned good qualifier, which is not easy. “Ever since I’ve been in NASCAR, I’ve only had one shot at it—I have to qualify the car every week to make the race. I’ll give it my best, and there’s nothing more you can do.
“In Montreal I went back expecting results, and they don’t necessarily come. But we never panicked, and ended up in second place. And if the race would have kept going, we may have won it.”
Whatever happens next, Carpentier has certainly made an adventure of this NASCAR life: “We live in the motor coach and just travel. I sit beside my driver and just watch the road and relax.
“I like being on the road, so it’s not too bad. But NASCAR has been tougher than I thought it would be. With these cars and the schedule and the traveling, it’s tough. But I’m getting used to it.
“Stock cars have tires half of the size of Indy cars, with much more horsepower. You have to be so careful not to burn up the rear tires and really be smooth with the car. You need a little bit more finesse with a stock car.
“And a stock car is mentally tougher to drive on an oval because you are so close to each other, with 43 cars on the track. Plus the car moves around so much with all the air disturbance.
“And there are so many tricks you can pull on each other with the aero, just by being beside someone.
“The last five races I’m starting to get really comfortable in the car.
“NASCAR is the most fun I’ve ever had racing. I just appreciate the moment. We race in front of crowds that are unbelievable. I feel like a pretty fortunate guy.”
Ron Fellows driving in the rain during the Montreal 200 last weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK
Rain tires were ordered by NASCAR at Montreal last weekend, in a very rare, almost unprecedented move….and a move not likely to be repeated.
NASCAR stockers don’t race in the rain, and don’t test for racing in the rain. NASCAR is supposed to require that all cars are setup with windshield wipers and rain-racing devices, but some of the details tend to get lost or overlooked.
Patrick Carpentier, who finished second to winner Ron Fellows in a one-two Canadian finish, has raced in the rain before but still had trouble: “The windshield wipers worked for a while, but where the windshield was, I couldn’t see out the right side of the car. The windshield would fog up more where the windshield wiper was, so sometimes I would shut it off…because the wind was too strong for the wiper to come back down,” Carpentier said.
“The thing that made me laugh is when I saw Carl Edwards squeegeeing out of the window. That was the highlight of the race. I was like ‘Where the heck did he get that squeegee?’ Maybe he stopped at a gas station on the way to the track.”
NASCAR rain tires have grooves to channel water away from under the contact patch (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
NASCAR asked Goodyear to develop rain tires about 12 years ago when it was planning a series of exhibition races in Japan. The thinking then was to be able to get the event in, regardless of the weather. And teams did qualify once over there in the rain.
However when NASCAR tried to get drivers to actually run a few laps on rain tires at Watkins Glen, they all but mutinied, most drivers simply refusing NASCAR orders to get out on the track and run some laps. Terry Labonte did a few runs, but when he hydroplaned and nearly crashed on the frontstretch, NASCAR quickly called a halt to that experiment.
What was learned: for these 3400-pound cars to run in the rain, the track itself must be immaculate, with great drainage, no bumps, and no puddles. Even at that, racing in the rain for NASCAR is really almost a joke – visibility is the really the biggest issue, with windshields not only wet but foggy, and with roostertails leaving drivers running blind. Now with enough practice, and foresight, and equipment, certainly it could be done. Every other major racing series runs in the rain. But NASCAR has never made much of a push for such advance work, in part because of such resistance from drivers.
Racing in the rain, in short, is not impossible….but it’s not going to be NASCAR-type racing, side-by-side, bumping-and-grinding.
Carpentier has raced in the rain in other series. What did he think about Montreal and the rain?
“I was impressed with the rain tires Goodyear brought,” he said. “The tires were around eight years old and pretty dried out, but still really good on the braking, and would actually stop the car more than I thought they would.
“I could still use the brakes really hard, and I made a couple of passes, which was good, and got passed a couple of times.
“But once the track got all the water on it, it gets a little dangerous and they had to call the race.
“Every time we had to stop for a yellow, the rear window would fog up. All the teams put Rain-X on the front windshield, but forgot to put it on the back window. So every time that we stopped, it would fog up for a lap or two. That was the hardest part.
“But other than that, it was like any other race I’ve done in the past—you have to be more careful and try to be smooth, not push too hard. I enjoyed it.”
Eight-year-old tires? Dried out?
Well, this week at the Glen, there won’t be any rain tires used, apparently. And drivers certainly won’t miss them.
Billionaire Bruton Smith keeps getting richer. Must be smart. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports (NYSE:TRK) reports second-quarter revenues of $212.8 million, net income of $47.0 million, and diluted earnings per share of $1.08. So for the first six month of 2008, the track holding company has record total revenues of $368.0 million, record net income of $77.9 million, and record diluted earnings per share of $1.79.
Smith’s company says the addition of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the Bristol NHRA event were big factors in the increase, which comes despite “the ongoing effects on admission revenues of escalating gas prices and other difficult economic conditions.”
The company says it expects to earn $2.40 to $2.50 this year, in line with previous estimates.
Speedway Motorsports also says it’s seen “significantly improved operating results” from its souvenir business.
The company also said: “Texas Motor Speedway attracted strong attendance at its NASCAR Samsung 500 Sprint Cup and O’Reilly 300 Nationwide Series racing events, and Lowe’s Motor Speedway attracted significantly higher attendance at its NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, and strong attendance at its Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series and CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Series, racing events. New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted large crowds at its NASCAR LENOX Industrial Tools 301 Sprint Cup Series, and near record attendance at its Camping World RV Sales 200 presented by RVs.com Nationwide Series, racing events.
“Other highlights include Infineon Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.) hosting a successful Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing weekend, and Texas Motor Speedway’s Bombardier Learjet 550 IndyCar and Sam’s Town 400 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing events attracting large crowds.”
Despite all that, the company said “admissions, concessions, souvenir merchandising and other event-related second quarter and year-to-date 2008 revenues were negatively impacted by declines in consumer spending from higher fuel prices and difficult consumer credit and housing markets. SMI also believes year-to-date 2008 revenues were negatively impacted by poor weather surrounding certain NASCAR racing events held at AMS and BMS in the first quarter 2008.”
J. J. Yeley is now looking for a new ride (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
J. J. Yeley was dropped Wednesday by team owner Tom Garfinkel, and 20-year-old Brad Coleman will get the ride and make his Cup debut next week at Michigan International Speedway.
P. J. Jones has already been lined up to run the team’s Toyota this week at Watkins Glen.
Garfinkel called Yeley “a talented race car driver and a great person, and this was a difficult decision.
“We all share responsibility that our performance hasn’t been what it needs to be, but we concluded it was time to make a change. This is a performance-based industry and we need to perform better. We’re confident J.J. will be successful in this sport in whatever his next challenge is.”
Coleman has run 42 NASCAR Nationwide races, highlighted by a pole at Talladega in April and a second-place finish at Kentucky in June.
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Patrick Carpentier, at Indianapolis, has finally started coming on strong the past five weeks (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)