Commentary

Open-wheel ace Carpentier hoping Busch debut a memorable one

Patrick Carpentier has plenty of experience at Circuit Gilles Villenueve. He hopes that carries over to his first race there in a stock car in Saturday's Busch race, writes Rupen Fofaria.

Updated: August 2, 2007, 10:12 PM ET
By Rupen Fofaria and Paul Grant | ESPN.com

The Fitz Motorsports crew stood back and stared, puzzled looks on their faces, at the No. 22 Dodge Charger they had just tweaked for this weekend's Busch Series road race in Montreal (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET).

Collectively, they must have thought: "That's the first time I've seen a stock car with that many mirrors inside."

Patrick Carpentier didn't care. He's an open-wheel racer who is preparing to take to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a familiar course for the Canadian who hopes to put on a show for the hometown fans.

He doesn't want a little snag like impaired vision to hurt his chances.

"You see nothing out of these things," he said of his stock car. "Man, how do you know who is inside you and outside you and all of that stuff like that. So we kept adding mirrors this morning. I know you have spotters, but I always feel more comfortable when you can see what is on your [sides]."

Obviously, Carpentier will have a lot of adjustments to make in his first-ever NASCAR Busch Series event. But while he's a rookie to NASCAR, the former CART and IRL winner is no rookie to racing.

The biggest adjustment, he said, will be manuevering the much more bulky stock cars around a race track he's zipped over in light-weight open-wheel rides. With the bulk, he says, will come some anticipated banging. He's not afraid. In fact, he's hopeful.

"I am really looking forward to driving these cars in the Busch Series, let me tell you," he said. "Forty-three cars coming into that tight Corner 1, there is going to be a good show for the fans.

I am really looking forward to driving these cars in the Busch Series, let me tell you.

Patrick Carpentier

"I'd like to [finish in the] top 10. If I'm top-10 then I will be happy with that. That is a good goal. I'm aiming higher than that; I hope to be in the top five. But realistically a top-10 after this long race I'll be happy."

Not that he's counting out the possibility of a win. After all, he knows that Juan Pablo Montoya scored his first NASCAR win on a Busch Series road race outside of the U.S. That was in Mexico at the beginning of the year.

"I don't say it too loud," Carpentier said of harboring thoughts of a win. "I don't want to pressure myself. It would kind of be a dream come true for me."

Carpentier, who grew up 45 minutes east of Montreal in Joliete, Quebec, thought the cars would entertain the fans.

"I think they're going to love it, I really do," he said. "It's so spectacular. Last year NASCAR Canada did a race here and it was only 20, 22 laps, and there was so much action in that race -- passing all the way to the finish. It was a great race to watch, it was actually one of the better races to watch that happened here. And they had great reviews in the paper and everything, and I think it's going to be the same in the Busch race. ..."

Although it seems like bringing NASCAR to North America's Paris is an odd fit, the race is reportedly sold out.

"It's a racing city," Carpentier said. "We've got so many dirt tracks here, around Montreal and Victoriaville and all the places. ... There's so many guys that are hooked on NASCAR. My friend is the biggest Jimmie Johnson fan. He's coming this weekend and he just loves Jimmie Johnson. So, there's a lot of people who are really into it. I think they're going to be surprised."

-- Rupen Fofaria and Paul Grant

Hired guns set pace
Predictably, the road course hired guns were the fastest drivers in the first day of action Thursday.

The afternoon session was a little different when the rubber met the road.

"The rubber getting down is really helping," said Ron Fellows, a Toronto native who's trained DEI drivers, among others, in the fine art of road-course racing. "But the chicanes are pretty slow; I went off the track and wrecked the nose. It was a bit of an adventure."

Marcos Ambrose said the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was a challenge and will remain that way during the race.

"The wall's nice and close," the Aussie said, drawing laughs. "It was really tricky out there today. ... It's going to be a race of mistakes."

Nextel Cup and Busch veteran Robby Gordon favorably compared the 2.7-mile circuit to street courses in Long Beach, Toronto and Vancouver.

"We've raced on a lot of street courses, and this is the closest to a street course NASCAR has been on," he said. "And I love street courses."

Earlier in the day, Christian Fittipaldi said the Gilles Villeneuve track is inappropriate for the Busch cars, but neither Ambrose, Fellows or Gordon agreed.

"That's probably because he doesn't have a ride," Gordon quipped.

"I don't see any issues for this weekend," Ambrose said. "There's nothing wrong with these cars on this track."

-- Paul Grant

Edwards is liking it, too

Fresh out of a practice session in his car, Busch Series points leader Carl Edwards was effusive in his praise for the track.

"The track is real tight," he said. "And what a great city and what a great facility."

Edwards was 15th in the first practice and eighth in the second.

-- Paul Grant

Virtual racing
Not many NASCAR regulars actually have raced at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The 2.71-mile road course, featuring 15 turns, promises to offer a challenge.

Jeff Burton, who already feels lukewarm about this road-racing skills, said he's got increased reason to worry about this Saturday.

"I have been racing my 6-year-old on his video game -- that is my Montreal experience," he said. "He usually wins, though, so that is a problem."

-- Rupen Fofaria

Growing riches
For the third time this year, a Busch Series win will mean a payday of over $2 million for one lucky driver and team. The purse for this weekend's Busch race is $2,075,651, the eighth-richest race purse in series history. Vying for that pot will be several Buschwhackers, including seven full-time Nextel Cup drivers, a handful of Canadian racers and some road-race specialists.

Wallace OK after attempted mugging
Steve Wallace, driver of the No. 66 Dodge Charger and son of racing legend Rusty Wallace, was jumped on Sunday night in Indianapolis. The 19-year-old suffered minor cuts and abrasions in the attempted mugging which took place at a convenience store. The men who jumped Wallace attempted to take his watch. Wallace was OK after the incident and plans to race this weekend in Montreal.

-- Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. Paul Grant is a senior coordinator at ESPN.com.