Smooth operators at the Glen

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:46 PM ET

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Any talk about underdogs for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International starts and finishes with two drivers — Patrick Carpentier and Ron Fellows.

That they are both Canadians is simply a coincidence. That they are both huge underdogs to win on Sunday in the Helluva Good Sour Cream Dips at the Glen is not.

Fellows — even with his five previous NASCAR wins at the Glen on his resume — is in the No. 26 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet, which hasn’t exactly burned the track up so far this 2010 season.

In fact, if truth be known, it has been around at the finish in only six of the first 21 races. For the most part the TBR Chevrolet has been part of the “start and park” brigade — those teams that only try to qualify and once they do they generally bring the car back to the garage within the first dozen or so laps go collect a substantial paycheque without risking any capital on a bent race car or a blown engine.

Fellows said on Friday that he has been promised by team owner Tommy Baldwin that Sunday at the Glen it will be different.

For Carpentier, the No. 26 Latitude 43 Racing Ford is not only the first NASCAR Sprint Cup car he has been in all season, it is the only race car he has been in all season.

Just a week ago, Carpentier’s plan for Sunday was to watch the race on television at his home outside of Montreal. So it is absolutely not the kind of situation the former IndyCar race winner would like to be in on race day.

But in spite of the enormous 8-ball both Fellows and Carpentier found themselves behind at the start of the day Friday the results at the end of the first practice showed both with incredibly impressive times.

Fellows was ninth fastest at 121.432 m.p.h. and Carpentier was 13th fastest 121.240 m.p.h. If the two can maintain that kind of placing on Saturday, both should make the race on Sunday.

To put that in perspective, Fellows and Carpentier were faster in that first session than current Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick, faster than four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and faster that five-time Watkins Glen winner Tony Stewart.

“It appears that we’ve got some speed,” Fellows said. “We spent most of the session fifth or sixth on the same set of tires.”

Fellows, who once was the most feared outsider to race in NASCAR, explained that any advantage he might have had at one time has long since gone away.

Indeed, he claims that now he and Carpentier are at a disadvantage.

“There’s no question the advantage is with the regulars,” he said. “When I first started doing this a dozen years ago you could count on one hand five or six guys you had to race against.

“Now I can easily list off two dozen really good road racers among Cup regulars, so being a non-regular does not help.”

Carpentier doesn’t much care who has the advantage or if he has a disadvantage. All he cares about is that he is here to be in the “show” that is NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

On Friday he was smiling ear to ear just to have the chance to make Sunday’s race.

“To me there is no other form of racing that compares to NASCAR,” he said. “It’s a joy to drive these cars. They have so much power.”

Carpentier said all he wanted to do Friday was keep the No. 26 Ford on the track and try to give the crew as much feed back as possible to help with qualifying on Saturday.

“I love this sport so much. I kind of forgot just how much fun it was,” he said.

Both he and Fellows hope they feel as good on Saturday.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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