Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch‘s Side By Side. Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!
Today’s Question: Should Patrick Carpentier have been fired?
It’s Not Pretty, But Patrick Had to Go
I don’t blame Carpentier for what happened at Gillett Evernham Motorsports. He’s a nice guy filled with future potential and someone who deserves to land on his feet. But sometimes, even the nice guys need to get fired from their jobs; and under the circumstances presented to GEM this week, they were left with no other choice.
The rookie had to go.
After having a public spat with crew chief Mike Shiplett following a surprising Talladega DNQ, Carpentier was clearly frustrated. According to the Canadian, Shiplett had accused him of driver error at a track where the machine, not the man behind the wheel, almost always determines your final qualifying time. Shiplett apologized a few days later, and it appears his claims were nothing more than heat-of-the-moment frustration. Still, where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the fact remains the two men squabbled in public. With only six weeks left, it would be difficult if not impossible for them to work together at a productive level the rest of the season.
And productive is the key word here, for the last thing you want to do is end 2008 on a sour note. For better or for worse, GEM’s No. 10 car has the rest of the season to worry about as it prepares for 2009, with an outside chance of cracking back into the Top 35. Looking ahead to the future, Carpentier wasn’t going to be a part of those plans – with or without that public fight – and it makes sense for them to have the best driver available for those races to establish momentum for the long offseason ahead.
Carpentier was no longer the best man to get that job done; so with his pink slip just six weeks away, why bother to make everyone wait? Honestly, it would have been perfect for a team like this to slip Reed Sorenson into the seat for the final handful of races to give the kid a head start on 2009. But even without him, replacements Mike Wallace and AJ Allmendinger have the motivation they need to give the No. 10 a boost under the right circumstances. Both of them are looking for a ride in ’09, and both are coming off recent surges that have their confidence riding high.
There’s precedence for GEM pulling this sort of move, too. When Jeremy Mayfield started showing a total lack of effort in the No. 19 car two years back, it didn’t make sense to pull that team in a downward spiral longer than absolutely necessary. After rumors swirled Mayfield intentionally wrecked the car at Indianapolis, he was out of that thing before the Chase began in September.
Sure, the two-time Chase participant may have been the most qualified driver to finish out the season; but he wasn’t someone capable of giving 110% under the circumstances. And when you’re a team that’s already working from behind, you need that extra 10% of effort to at least try and make up the distance.
So many times this season, you can sense Carpentier had that in him. But in a few short hours Saturday afternoon, that extra willpower disappeared… making it the right call for GEM to cut their losses while they still had a chance to salvage some decent finishes this season. – Tom Bowles
Carpentier Deserved to Finish Out the Season
It might be because I’m a foreigner too, but there was a lot I liked about Carpentier; and I, for one, am extremely disappointed he’s been so clinically removed from a ride.
The gap toothed French Canadian with the wide smile was always a thoughtful interview, especially when compared to some of the bland nonsense spewed from some of the pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped, bore-you-to-sleep stars of our great sport. And you always, always got the sense he knew how lucky he was to have a ride in the best form of motorsports in the world and that he would do everything in his power to make it work.
OK, the stats don’t exactly paint a rosy picture of sustained success – average start 25.2, average finish 29.6, nary a top 10, a best finish of 14th and only 11 laps led – but Carpentier’s season needs to be viewed from the prism of both his sheer lack of experience in stock car racing and also the general struggles at GEM (and particularly with the No. 10 car.) Let’s be fair here; other than a purple patch of a few weeks for Kasey Kahne, it’s been a long, uphill battle all season long for Ray Evernham and George Gillett’s stable of drivers.
While the news of Carpentier’s release hardly came as a shock – following the late August announcement that Sorenson was making the move from one sinking Dodge ship to another – the question is whether or not it was the right call? Let’s start with the sound bite from Mark McArdle (VP, MD of competition at GEM) who said of Reed: “We believe he has a great future ahead of him here at Gillett Evernham Motorsports. He will be a great fit with our drivers, sponsors and employees.”
Now, maybe it’s just me, or is it indicative that McArdle mentioned sponsors before employees? A photogenic 22-year-old with 103 Sprint Cup races already under his belt is a better long-term prospect for the marketing folks at companies interested in NASCAR, sure, but with just five top fives in those races and only one this year in the Daytona 500, is it really an upgrade? I think not. Let’s not forget either that Sorenson’s average finish is only 27.3 this season – just a tick better than Carpentier.
So maybe Reed attracts more sponsor dollars and maybe that makes sense in these troubled economic times, but is he the best bet for GEM? Well, the jury’s most definitively out on that question.
In addition, the signs were there that Carpentier was just starting to get comfortable in stock cars. He had four top-20 runs in his last 10 races and of course that pole position at Loudon. All you needed to see was the interview following the last qualifying run to see how important it was to the French Canadian – his joy was almost unconfined. And for the record, Carpentier’s efforts were the first time a rookie has won a pole in New Hampshire – not a bad effort huh?
Added to this general improvement, it’s interesting to note how well he’s run in the Nationwide Series with four top-10 efforts in eight attempts (at tracks as diverse as Las Vegas, Mexico City, ‘Dega and Montreal where the rain was probably the deciding factor – leaving him with a second-place finish that could easily have been a maiden win). Another positive for Carpentier is that he is a fine qualifier – a critical factor when you’re out of the Top 35. He’s run in 22 of 27 races and, of the five he didn’t make, two were races where qualifying was canceled for rain. He missed another when he focused his attention on the Montreal Nationwide race.
So despite clear signs of improvement, an aptitude for qualifying and, let’s be fair, no real sign that Sorenson is the next big star, Carpentier is out of a ride. The man himself perhaps said it best, “It sure is sad that we don’t keep going. I think we did pretty good with the No. 10. …I’m disappointed, but it’s OK. I’m going to enjoy the rest of the year and just have fun with it and see if we can find anything else.”
Let’s hope he can because the sport will always be better off for having characters such as Carpentier. It sure will be interesting to watch how well (or not so well) Sorenson does next season. – Danny Peters
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