Carpentier deserves extension

The last role we want for Patrick Carpentier next year is to be a spectator at races.

It's not just because he has proven in the past year that he will be a successful driver in NASCAR's top series, but attending races has not been the best activity the past couple of weeks.

Before we digress to why being a spectator hasn't been fun lately, we have to lobby for Gillett Evernham Motorsports to extend Carpentier's contract beyond this NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

"If you worry about it, you'll perform worse most of the time," said Carpentier, who has won five times in major open-wheel series and has a best Cup finish of 14th this year.

In a national teleconference Tuesday, he said he expects to know his status for next year by the middle of this month.

"I like NASCAR," he said. "I like the ovals, and that's what I want to do. The (Indy Racing League) is going away from ovals, and for me, I have no interest in going back."

The longtime Las Vegas resident debuted in NASCAR a year ago by winning the pole and finishing second in the Nationwide Series road course event in Montreal. A week later in Watkins Glen, N.Y., he started his first Cup race and placed 22nd for a team that was not among the 35 best in the series.

Today he'll try to qualify for Sunday's race at Watkins Glen.

Carpentier is the type of driver NASCAR needs badly; he's a talented veteran and among the most personable on the circuit.

He took over the No. 10 Dodge at Gillett Evernham full time this season, replacing Scott Riggs, who finished the year 36th in points. Carpentier turns 37 on Wednesday and is 37th in points despite missing five Cup races.

He didn't qualify for the opener at Daytona, and rain washed out qualifying three times. He has needed to qualify for races because his car hasn't been guaranteed a starting spot because it has been outside the top 35 in owners points. Last week, he missed the Cup race in Pocono, Pa., to focus on the Nationwide Series. Terry Labonte filled in but finished 32nd.

Majority team owner George Gillett Jr., who also owns the Montreal Canadiens, must bring Carpentier back for at least another year.

And we need to keep Carpentier out of the grandstands, which recently has been more precarious than sitting inside a 200 mph race car.

Miserable race days started for fans two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a poor tire compound limited all-out racing to no more than 13 consecutive laps because of feared blowouts.

A byproduct of the low mileage Goodyear tires was the rough track surface produced a fine rubber dust that spread into some grandstand sections. Surprisingly, no one has filed a class-action lawsuit for having to inhale the unhealthy particulate matter.

Then fans in Montreal and Pocono were pelted with rain.

The most bizarre happening at Pocono, though, was when a 43-year-old man was left in critical condition Sunday after being stabbed in the heart at the track.

And near Oslo, Norway, on Sunday, a lightning bolt hit a hillside where 91 people were watching a rally race -- 45 of them suffered burns.

Being a racing fan is tough business these days, and that doesn't count the higher cost of getting to a race.

But at least Sprint is trying to help ease fans' pain.

Participating Sprint stores will exchange a used Cup ticket from one of this year's races for a $100 gift card if new phone service is started or handset upgraded.

We don't usually plug promotions, contests or giveaways here, but that gift card can be used for anything from gasoline to groceries to back-to-school supplies.

In these dog days of summer, we deserve a break.

And Gillett Evernham needs to give another big one to Carpentier.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at throughout the week.