Carpentier delivers

DEAN MCNULTY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:18 PM ET

Early in the 2007 NASCAR Sprint Cup (then Nextel Cup) season, there was talk in the garage about which of the open wheel racing stars seeking to make the jump to stock cars would succeed.

During those discussions, rarely was Canada's Patrick Carpentier's name mentioned.

Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve, another Canadian, was getting the lion's share of attention, along with Indianapolis 500 winners Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr.

But after having to start the 2008 season without a top-35 points cushion like Franchitti and Hornish, Carpentier has fought his way into four of the seven Cup races so far in the No. 10 Gillett Evernham Motorsports Dodge.

While Villeneuve never did get a Cup start in the No. 27 Bill Davis Racing Toyota, and while his other two fellow rookies were getting free passes, Carpentier was pocketing some good finishes, including a season-high 28th at Texas Motor Speedway, making him the top rookie of the race.

Next he'll attempt to qualify for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday night, the oval where he got his NASCAR baptism in 2007.

"I'm thrilled to finally head back to a track I've raced on before," he said. "It was a lot of fun at Phoenix last year.

"I remember how stressed I was for qualifying but it worked out. We had a lot of help from Ken Schrader there.

"We will keep focused and do our best in qualifying. Once we're in the race we'll be smart and hopefully get a strong finish. Right now anything in the top 25 is good."

Carpentier's steady climb up the stock car learning curve has drawn notice from the U.S. media that cover the series.

Veteran Yahoo! sports columnist Bob Margolis calls Carpentier "far better than most people have noticed.

"Every time he was under the gun to qualify on speed, Carpentier delivered. When he has made it into the field, he has delivered solid performances."

OLE FOR FELLOWS

Ron Fellows was disappointed that his NASCAR Nationwide series owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., couldn't work it out so the Canadian could race the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in Mexico City next week.

But quicker than you can say Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Fellows was asked to drive the No. 06 Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R at the famed former Formula One road course in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series.

He will partner with Leighton Reese to drive the Grand Am prototype in the Crown Royal Mexico City 250 on April 19, the companion race to the NASCAR Corona 200.

Fellows knows his way around the 4.4-km track built near the city centre of the Mexican capital.

"Racing in Mexico City is very cool, I really like the track," he said. "I've run NASCAR races a couple of times there, and ran the full course configuration in 1991 in Trans-Am. I had the pole there, had a puncture during the race and finished second.

"It's a great facility. It has a big, long front straight that is a good passing zone, and the last corner is really fast."

Although it will be his first race in the Pontiac GXP.R prototype, Fellows did drive the previous model -- the GTO.R -- in 2006.

"I haven't tested the GXP.R, but I drove the GTO.R at Mid-Ohio a few years ago," Fellows said. "We had that race covered and then a suspension problem forced us to DNF. There are some similarities between the GTO.R and the GXP.R I'll be driving in Mexico City. They're racing on a different tire now, but it's a front engine car, built by GM Racing and Pratt & Miller, so I'm sure it will be easy to adapt to."

Fellows will be back in Earnhardt's No. 5 Chevrolet when the Nationwide series races at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in August.

FINISH LINES

To make this all-Canadian version of Trackside complete, Paul Tracy may be back banging on garage doors in NASCAR soon. Without a ride in the newly united Indy Racing League, the Toronto native has put out feelers that he would be happy to test for a solid Cup or Nationwide team for this season ... D.J. Kennington will be in Phoenix, as well, this weekend, hoping to forget his appearance there in 2007 when his No. 81 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge was spun hard into the wall.


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