SONOMA, Calif. – Patrick Carpentier, subbing for car owner and driver of the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Michael Waltrip, had a simple goal in mind -- to get as many points as possible. Mission accomplished. Carpentier battled back from an early spin and a carburetor challenge to finish 11th place in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. The top-15 result moved the NAPA team up to 29th place in the owner points standings – just 69 markers out of 25th and less than 175 out of the top 20.
“This is the best result I have had since starting my Sprint Cup racing career a couple of years ago,” said Carpentier, who qualified the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota in 38th position. “I am really happy. I want to thank Michael Waltrip and NAPA AUTO PARTS for giving me the support. I was hoping I was going to get a top-10 but we got spun out early. We made a really good comeback. I’m really pleased with the outcome of the race.”
Brian Vickers led the field to the green flag and Carpentier wasted no time in establishing a fast pace. He was up to 29th position after just 10 laps. Then the first caution of the day was thrown on lap 20 when Jeff Burton spun out. Crew chief Bootie Barker opted to leave his driver out in favor of track position. When the green flag waved on lap 24, Kyle Busch was the leader and the No. 55 Toyota restarted in 13th place. Four laps into the run, the NAPA team suffered a setback. When entering Turn 11, Carpentier was turned around by Matt Kenseth. The No. 55 driver got back in line quickly to get scored in 27th position. The spin didn’t faze him as he rapidly broke back into the top 20 by lap 31. Then it was time to pit under green on lap 34. The crew busted off a quick stop that included an air pressure change, four fresh tires and more fuel.
Shortly after the halfway mark, Carpentier started to make up significant ground. On lap 64, he was scored in 16th position. Then another stop under green for the NAPA team happened on lap 72. No adjustments were made and the Canadian driver started posting some of the fastest lap times on the track. His bid for a top-10 run slowed as the pace of the race changed when caution flags were thrown on laps 83 and 97. The biggest challenge for Carpentier at this point was a stubborn carburetor that affected the car as it was getting up to full speed on the restarts. Despite the slight hiccup, the NAPA driver made up for the deficit to run just outside the top 10 in 13th place.
With three laps remaining, the seventh caution flag of the race was thrown. Scott Speed’s car was spun out by road-course ace Boris Said. The yellow flag created a green-white-checkered-flag scenario with Carpentier’s teammate, Marcos Ambrose, in the hunt for the win. Kasey Kahne took the green flag and did battle with the hard charging efforts of Tony Stewart and Ambrose. Kahne held off the challenge to give car owner Richard Petty his first win since 1999. Carpentier mixed it up as well to pick up one position to finish in 11th place.
“Man, those double-file restarts were crazy,” he said after the race. “It was hard to get by and hard to survive. Everybody was pushing and shoving. I had a little push with a couple of guys there and they were pushing me too. It was a tough deal because I was trying to maintain and survive. It’s the name of the game with these new double-file restarts. I think the restarts make for a great show for the fans and I had fun.”
Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann had a tough day on the road course. He finished in 31st place.
Meanwhile, following Kahne to the finish line to round out the top-10 finishers were Stewart, Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Elliott Sadler.
NAPA Racing’s Michael Waltrip will be back on track next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Last season, fans saw the two-time Daytona 500 champion score a runner-up finish. Broadcast coverage of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 gets underway at 1:30 p.m. ET on TNT. It also can be heard on PRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 Unofficial Results: http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2009/16/data/results_unofficial.html