By Mike Mulhern
Patrick Carpentier is all smiles….for the moment. He’s got a great deal, a full-time ride, for the first time in a couple of years, with a top-notch NASCAR operation, the George Gillett-Ray Evernham Dodge operation. And he’s having a blast.
Now after 500 miles of Daytona drafting – if he’s fortunate enough to go the distance – he might have more to say about life in the stock car world, after spending most of his life in Indy-cars and sports cars.
But right now he’s all smiles. Even in the car-of-tomorrow. Of course, he’s so new to NASCAR he doesn’t even know that much really about the car-of-yesterday.
Carpentier is from Montreal, but he’s been calling Las Vegas home the past couple of years, so during this week’s big NASCAR tests at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California Speedway he was right at home, literally.
“It is nice to sleep at home, and come back testing the next day,” the newest NASCAR Cup racer says.
Even with the car-of-tomorrow?
“It’s been not too bad,” Carpentier insists. “We struggled a bit at the beginning of the test. But it’s been a little bit better. I’m working with my teammates quite a bit.”
That’s Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler….making this threesome a very diverse group, to say the least.
Canadian Patrick Carpentier Faces a Steep Learning Curve in NASCAR, But He’s Still All Smiles
Photo credit: NASCAR)
“Kasey drove my car, and we changed a few things,” Carpentier said. “It’s been wonderful. They’ve been working with me, helping quite a bit.”
Naturally Carpentier faces a difficult learning curve. So he’s spent most of the off-season, such as it is, testing at various tracks.
“Every track is different,” Carpentier says. “When you leave one track, you’re like ‘I think I’ve got it down.’ Then you come to a different track, and you’ve got to learn again.
“But it’s been fun, it’s been good. We’ve been improving. So far so good.”
At the moment Carpentier plans to commute to NASCAR tour events, rather than move to the Mooresville, N.C. area. How long he can keep that up remains to be seen.
“This year I’m not moving,” he insists. “We love Vegas. Been here since ‘99. My daughter and my son were born here, they got a lot of friends here, they’re still going to school, and I don’t want to take my daughter out of school.
“There are direct flights from basically everywhere in the States back to Vegas, so for this year we’re going to definitely stay in Vegas.”
So Carpentier is no stranger to Bruton Smith’s Nevada track. In fact he raced here, in Indy-cars, in 2004: “The grandstands were packed for our race…because there was the Truck race before us, and everybody was still there,” he recalls with a laugh.
Yes, the NASCAR world, and the NASCAR life, is quite different, for drivers as well as fans. “It’s very different from what I’m used to,” Carpentier says, reflecting on the few NASCAR races he’s been in so far. “There are a lot of people.
“Went to Phoenix last year, and Homestead, and it’s unbelievable to see the motorhomes lining up outside the track, and the stands packed.”
That is just the lifestyle side of his new career. Out on the track, well, it’s a lot of hard work, and the verdict is still out on whether he can do this or not.
“It’s such a big learning curve,” he readily concedes. “I mean—in the way you describe the car.
“We (in the Indy-car world) are so used to having a car that’s stuck to the track when you go through the corners—you know the car is going to be there.
“But with these cars it’s how much on the edge you can drive them, and how much you can push them towards that direction.
“I think sometimes we’re just asking for a car that’s too comfortable to drive but not necessarily the fastest car.
“When they put Kasey’s setup on the car I think it might be pretty loose for me. I might say ‘Man, this thing is really loose.’
“Because once you get that setup, you really have to drive in almost all the way the middle of the corner full-throttle and just keep the back end of the car down.
“Maybe that’s what I need to get used to.
“Kasey was pretty nice to just say ‘Stop this test’ and get in my car and say what he thinks about it. Elliott is too tall to get in my car, but he’s helping any way he can.”
Despite the newness of this all, Carpentier isn’t going to complain. After all, it’s a full-time job, he’s a star again, and he’s got factory-backing.
Now he’s just got to learn how to do this.
So he’s upbeat: “I like this car. To me this car is a lot closer to an open-wheel car, as far as the suspension and setups.
“I was talking to Kyle Petty and he said ‘Man, a few years ago we used to have 15 guys working on the cars and two guys on the computers. Now there are like three cars and 15 guys on the computers trying to make these things go fast.
“To me it’s closer to what I’m used to. We’re used to having a lot of guys working with data acquisition. We just won’t have it in the race weekend.
“I just like the (new) car, I like the way it feels.
“The thing I didn’t like about it was when I did some bump-drafting at Daytona—The front-end is pretty easily damaged. And after it was damaged, I couldn’t stay in the draft. It’s fragile. You’ve got to be careful with it.
“The difficult part to me is just understanding what I need with this car to really get it up to the top of the chart. It’s going to take some time, just driving it, getting used to it.”
And so will everyone else on the tour…which puts Carpentier on a bit more even footing.
“The older car, everybody else had a lot of experience on it, and it made it even harder for us,” Carpentier says. “But it also drove a lot more like a stock car: Once you lifted off the throttle going into corners, the car was going really sideways and doing things this one is not doing.
“That makes this easier for us a little bit.
“It really helps us even the field. With the older car, they got so much experience with it and how to set it up, the drivers knew exactly what they wanted.”