BROOKLYN, Mich. — It was nine years ago that Patrick Carpentier got his first win in a major racing series when he won the U.S. 500 at Michigan International Speedway with the Player’s Forsythe Racing team.
On Saturday the Joliett, Que., native was preparing to try to repeat the feat when he starts on row 12 Sunday in the No. 26 Latitude 43 Motorsports Ford at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Carfax 400 at the same track.
“I remember the team had blue champagne in victory lane,” Carpentier said. “It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders because I was waiting so long for that first win.”
That victory opened the flood gates for Carpentier who went on to win five races and finish second in the championship to Toronto’s Paul Tracy in 2003 in his CART/Champ Car career before switching to NASCAR in 2009.
If there is a venue where it is possible for Carpentier to recapture that magic, it is at MIS, where winners can come from mid-pack to win in what are often fuel-mileage races on the two-mile oval.
“This is just such a great track to race on,” he said. “It is one of the few tracks in all of NASCAR where you can race multiple grooves. That’s why it is a favourite for so many of the NASCAR regulars.”
Carpentier hopes that after being part of the travelling NASCAR Sprint Cup circus in 2009, before leaving the then-Gillett Evernham Motorsports team before the end of that season, he can make enough of an impression Sunday to get back on track, so to speak.
His only race to date in 2010 was last week in Watkins Glen where he finished 21st, the No. 26 team’s best result of the season. That got him an invite to Sunday’s Carfax 400.
“I got a call on Monday (after Watkins Glen) from (team owner) Bill Jenkins asking if I wanted to try to qualify at MIS,” Carpentier said. “And when I put the car in the race (on Friday), he offered me a race at Atlanta on Sept. 5.”
Carpentier’s solid finish at Watkins Glen moved the team to 36th — just one place away from not having to qualify in upcoming races — and that played a big part in Jenkins’ decision to bring him back.
“I wasn’t even looking for this, really,” Carpentier said. “I was sitting at home with my family when this opportunity came about. This season was the first season in 20 years that I didn’t have a full-time racing job.”
He admits, however, that he loves NASCAR and that today could be his chance to earn a contract not only for the rest of 2010, but for 2011 as well.