Carpentier and Villeneuve ready to get boost from hometown crowd

Updated: August 1, 2008

MONTREAL -- The hometown hero has a little competition this year.

Last year, Patrick Carpentier came into the first Montreal race as the local driver who needed to impress the big boys from the south enough to earn a ride for the rest of the year. He left it riding high on the figurative shoulders of Montrealers after capturing the pole and finishing second at the first NASCAR second-tier race in Canada. He was so successful, in fact, that he earned a good ride with Gillett Evernham Motorsports for 2008.

This year, he comes to the event having had a decent amount of success in the No. 10 Sprint Cup car, currently sitting 36th in points -- just outside the all-important top 35 -- in his rookie season. His ride is established. What's not established is his place as the lone local favorite in the field. He's now getting competition from former F1 and CART champion Jacques Villeneuve, who is also a local product at this race on the track named in honor of his father, F1 legend Gilles Villeneuve.

Carpentier played down any rivalry that might exist between the two Quebec natives, who were both in the top six in both practice sessions Friday.

"When I talk to him, we get along pretty well," Carpentier said. "He's done six races in the Sprint Cup. When we're together we're having a good time. It's all good, you know. It's like WWF: You've got to have a little something to attract the fans. I mean, when Kyle Busch does something, people hate him, but they come to watch him anyways. That's the main thing. It makes it a lot more fun."

Does Villeneuve think there's a rivalry?

"No, even though there should be because we're both from here," he said. "But frankly we've both been in racing for so long that it would be stupid if there was a big rivalry."

Winning this year's Cup pole at New Hampshire -- the first by a foreign-born driver in the modern era -- was among Carpentier's favorite accomplishments, but winning the pole here last year was right up there.

"It's what started it all for me last year," he said. "Every time I came here, it had a good, positive influence on my career in many ways. For me I'll always be thankful to come and race over here. It's home for me also. It's fun. Even the guys in the States, they love coming here. They think it's a fun town and a fun place in the summer. Don't come in the winter, though; but in the summer, it's great."

Life for Carpentier has changed quite a bit in a year, but he doesn't seem to mind the adjustment.

"It's very different, but I like it," he said of the NASCAR lifestyle. "To me it's more relaxed, more fun, more family-oriented. I feel so comfortable in these cars and with those people. Even the drivers, I talk to them all the time; we help each other out. It's been great. I'm so glad I'm part of it and I hope to be for many years to come."

The biggest adjustment for Carpentier -- again -- has come in the cars. Carpentier said the new car has been a challenge to master.

"The Car of Tomorrow is so tough to drive; it's a very hard car to drive," he said. "It's just got way too much power for how much it handles, with the weight and the tires. You've got to drive that thing. The center of gravity is much higher than with these [Nationwide Series] cars, so it makes it slide sideways so much in the corners."

Mexico is off the docket, but Canadian race appears to be secure

Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of corporate communications, said Friday that the withdrawal from Mexico in the Nationwide Series does not mean the Montreal race is in similar jeopardy.

"Two entirely different situations," Poston said. "We went into Mexico four years ago to introduce that country to NASCAR racing, which essentially was an open-wheel culture, if you will. We're incredibly proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far after those four years."

Poston said NASCAR Mexico has 14 events on nine tracks and full fields -- 30 cars -- for virtually every race. Poston added that this has paid off with the development of a new generation of drivers feeding into the three national series.

"On the Canadian side, it's an entirely different situation," he said. "We already have a well-established fan base here. NASCAR events in the United States and Canada are among the most highest-rated sports telecasts in the country here in Canada. So this is a little different because we're accommodating an existing fan base, where there was just demand to bring the sport and this series to the country. So it's serving an existing fan base and demand, and that's an important distinction."

The drivers were of mixed opinion regarding the death of the Mexico race.

"It's too bad because it's a fun track," said road-course specialist Ron Fellows, a Canadian who's here driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide team. "I'm not sure what the reasons are, but it was certainly a fun track. I got to do the very first one and that was a lot of fun."

"I've been there twice, and I've seen the crowd drop both years," Marcus Ambrose said. "The market wasn't there for it. I understand why they didn't want to go back. It would have been fine to have three road-course races on the calendar. It's NASCAR's choice to go where they want, and they keep giving us money to race, so I'll keep turning up wherever they send us."

Fellows added that the loss of Mexico isn't necessarily a bad thing for the remaining foreign stop in NASCAR.

"Probably makes this one even more important," he said. "It's the only one outside the U.S. and my guess is we could certainly handle more in Canada. I don't think NASCAR would argue with that."

Mexico's loss won't necessarily mean Canada's gain, at least in the short term, Poston said.

"We're looking at a number of options, but that doesn't include a second race in Canada for the Nationwide Series at this time," he said.

Paul Grant is the deputy editor for general sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at paul.grant@espn3.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

Get those rain tires ready!

Marcos Ambrose

Ambrose

With rain in the forecast for Saturday, the possibility remained that the cars could run with rain tires. Yep, you read that right -- rain tires. Just when you thought NASCAR could take a break from talking about tires …

"It's NASCAR's choice and it looks like the weather could be touch-and-go for some showers," Ambrose said. "I'm not sure if those tires have the most grip I've ever seen. I saw them in Mexico and they looked a little purple. NASCAR will do everything it can to get this race in. If it rains, I'm happy to run. I mean, I'll run in anything."

Ambrose and some other former open-wheelers would seem to be at an advantage if it rains, but the affable Australian wasn't so sure in his specific case.

"I don't know if it's a good or bad thing because I know what to expect," he said, laughing. He added that driving the Nationwide cars would be "treacherous," and could make for different braking choices. "It'll make it interesting for sure, if it happens."

The forecast was calling for a 60 percent chance of rain during the race. NASCAR has never run a national-series points race in the rain, so Saturday could be a first.

ESPN Video

Standings

Jayski Podcast

Jayski Podcast

Mark Garrow looks back on another Kyle Busch victory. Plus, the spotlight shines on Patrick Carpentier.
Listen