Patrick Carpentier never will forget the last time he raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it has nothing to do with his pole-position start and third-place finish in the 2004 Champ Car World Series open-wheel race.
Carpentier remembers a huge crowd. He also remembers having to avoid departing spectators as he and other Champ Car drivers walked down grandstand aisles in a unique pre-race introduction.
Most of the 60,000 spectators showed up only to watch the NASCAR truck series race that preceded the Champ Car event in a racing doubleheader. Few fans remained by the time Carpentier was challenging for the Champ Car win.
The Summerlin resident returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for testing this week, and as a rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, he has left the days of sparse crowds behind.
"It's very different from what I'm used to. There's a lot of people," Carpentier said. "That's what we like ... to race in front of a lot of fans. That's what you get with NASCAR, so (I'm) looking forward to that."
The 36-year-old veteran of Champ Car and IndyCar racing got an opportunity to drive for Gillett Evernham Motorsports last year in the Busch series in Montreal. He qualified on the pole and led 14 laps before finishing second.
That led to a full-time Cup ride this year in GEM's No. 10 Dodge.
Carpentier qualified for last year's final two Cup races and is optimistic about successfully adjusting to stock cars from the lighter and more aerodynamic Indy-style cars.
"We've been improving since (we've) been here and need to keep improving until the end of the day today," he said Tuesday during a lunch break on the second day of Sprint testing at the speedway. "So far so good."
His best morning lap on the 1.5-mile tri-oval took 30.088 seconds, which was only 66th best as every driver tested two cars. Teammate Kasey Kahne ranked 13th in the session, about six-tenths of a second quicker.
"Kasey drove my car this morning, and we changed a few things and stuff like that. It's been wonderful. They've been working with me, helping quite a bit."
Both drivers improved in the afternoon. Kahne jumped to fourth, and Carpentier moved up to 21st, 0.67 quicker than his best morning run.
"Every track is different. When you leave that track, you're like, 'I think I've got it down.' You come to a different track, you've got to learn again."
Carpentier moved to Las Vegas in 1999 and does not plan to emulate other NASCAR drivers by moving closer to Charlotte, N.C., where nearly all teams are based.
Brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch represent their native Las Vegas in NASCAR, but they live near Charlotte.
"This year I'm not moving. We love Vegas," Carpentier said. "My daughter, my son were born here. They (have) a lot of friends here. They're still going to school."
When he returns for the Feb. 29 to March 2 NASCAR weekend at the speedway, Carpentier will race in his adopted hometown for the first time in three years.
He can count on nearly all of the expected 150,000 fans hanging around for the final lap this time.
• NOTES -- Carl Edwards (29.307 seconds), in a Roush Racing Ford, was fastest in the morning session. Juan Pablo Montoya (28.914) was best in the afternoon, driving a Ganassi Racing Dodge. ... Cup teams head to Fontana, Calif., for testing Thursday and Friday at California Speedway. ... Nationwide teams test today and Thursday at Las Vegas. Admission is free.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0247.