After spending the past few years trying to avoid racing, Patrick Carpentier is revved up about getting back to the track full-time.
The former open wheel and Stock car racer heads to Daytona this weekend in his new role as a colour commentator for French-language sports channel RDS's NASCAR broadcasts, and he couldn't be happier.
"I tried other things but I need to be around racing," said Carpentier who retired from full-time driving after the 2008 season.
"Everything has been very different since I stopped racing and I have been trying to come to grips with it for the past three years, but it's really, really tough. For me, the new job doesn't really change my life because I'll still be working on weekends."
For the past few years, the 40-year-old from Lasalle, Que., was in the home renovation business, buying and selling real estate in the Las Vegas area where he lived during his active racing career. Unfortunately, the economic downturn hit the Vegas area hard and sagging real estate prices made things difficult for Carpentier.
So, when the offer came to get him back into the racing scene, he jumped at the chance. Carpentier will work alongside play-by-play man Didier Schraenen, working almost all of the 36 Sprint Cup the races this year. He will also comment on most of NASCAR's second tier Nationwide series events.
Coincidentally, Carpentier's old teammate Paul Tracy will be in the booth doing colour for a handful of IndyCar races for Rogers Sportsnet. In addition, 1997 Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve has agreed to take on the same role with Italian Sky television for its grand prix telecasts.
Carpentier feels that his inside knowledge of the sport will help NASCAR fans to understand small details that they otherwise might miss.
"I think I can see the way the drivers position themselves in the track and all the little tricks that they try on the different tracks," he said "The bad part is that they played them all on me, so I kind of learned them the hard way."
As part if the new role he will move his his family to Joliette, Que., which is about 50 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Although he will concentrate on NASCAR to start, Carpentier would also like to expand into other types of races, such as F1 and IndyCar coverage at some point.
Although he stressed that he's completely happy with his new role as a commentator, Carpentier also isn't ready to hang up his racing gloves for good.
With the NASCAR Nationwide race in Montreal now off the schedule, Carpentier is intrigued by the idea of trying his hand in this summer's inaugural Camping World Truck series race at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport) in Bowmanville, Ont.
"I am thinking about it – it would be a lot of fun. I would like to try to work a deal to be in that race," he said.
"And I really would like to have a chance to drive the new Gen-6 car. [The road course at] Watkins Glen [N.Y.] would be pretty cool, especially in the new car."
The top tier Sprint Cup Series introduced a new car this season called the Generation 6, which looks more like the manufacturers' showroom models. Carpentier raced all but one of his 40 Cup starts in the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), which the Gen-6 replaced.
With his commentator's hat on, he suggested that some drivers in particular will likely benefit from their new ride, which doesn't slide around as much as the CoT that Carpentier described as a "flying brick."
"I think it's really going to help the drivers who are more aggressive," he said.
"This year I think on some tracks it's going to help [former Formula One driver Juan Pablo] Montoya and I'm thinking guys like Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne will really like it. A lot of track records will fall this year."
One focus of his first broadcast as part of the RDS team will likely be Danica Patrick, who Carpentier raced against three times in a stock car, all on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
After a year in the Nationwide Series, Patrick begins her first full Sprint Cup season on Sunday as the pole sitter for the Daytona 500.
Although Patrick found speed in qualifying for the "Great American Race," Carpentier feels that the intensified spotlight brought by her early success might bring some unforeseen consequences.
"She has a lot of talent and really good car control," he said.
"I know qualifying at Daytona is just a different deal. Now she has to race – it's a great thing for NASCAR and I am really happy about it and she deserves it – but she just put a lot of pressure on herself for what's coming this year. She still going to be a tough year and she has a lot to learn."
Young Canadian wins in Daytona
Calgary racer Cameron Hayley took the victory in the inaugural K&N Pro Series race on a specially built short track at the Daytona International Speedway in the run-up to Sunday's Daytona 500.
The win in the non-points race was the 16-year-old's first start with his new No. 3 Ford with the Gene Price Motorsport team.
The Calgary teen finished seventh overall last year in his rookie K&N West Series, with five top-5 finishes in 15 starts driving the No. 24 Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing. His K&N Pro Series West season gets underway on March 2 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Wickens back with Mercedes
Canadian Robert Wickens returns with the Mercedes squad for a sophomore season in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series after the manufacturer announced the Guelph, Ont., racer as one of its six drivers for 2013.
It is not known whether Wickens will graduate to a factory team this year after taking three points finishes driving for a satellite outfit in his rookie season in 2012.
At least one seat is up for grabs with the top-flight HWA squad after Jamie Green jumped from Mercedes to rival Audi over the off-season. HWA will have four cars in 2013, with Mücke Motorsport adding two more. Mercedes ran eight cars in 2012.
2005 DTM champion Gary Paffett, who finished second overall in the 2012 to Canadian Bruno Spengler, will lead the Mercedes squad.
The other confirmed Mercedes drivers are 2011 Formula 3 Euro Series champion Roberto Merhi, former Formula One driver Ralf Schumacher, 2007 A1GP champion Christian Vietoris and newcomer Daniel Juncadella, who is the reigning Formula 3 Euro Series champion.
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)