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Carpentier and Kahne swap cars
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Trading places took on new meaning for Gillett Evernham Motorsports teammates Patrick Carpentier (No. 10 Valvoline Dodge) and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) Tuesday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Each driver hopped in the other’s seat for a few laps – a crucial learning exercise for Carpentier, a 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate.

“It's been wonderful,” he said of Kahne’s willingness to help. “They've been working with me, helping quite a bit.”

One of three open-wheel veterans debuting in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, Carpentier hopes he’s on the fast track to experience.

“We'll see how it goes this afternoon, but it really helps me in the way I describe the car,” Carpentier said of Kahne’s driving comparison. “If his car is really different, I'll say, ‘Maybe that's what I need to have and get used to. I have to get a bit better car.’ He's pretty nice to just say, ‘Stop this test.’ Get in the car, says what he thinks about it. It's always helpful.”

Both GEM teams – along with teammate Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Best Buy Dodge) and the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup field – were completing their second day of testing at Las Vegas, part of NASCAR Preseason Thunder, NASCAR’s annual preseason test sessions.

More West Coast test days await Thursday and Friday at California Speedway, but for Carpentier, learning from a former series Raybestos Rookie of the Year – Kahne swept those honors in 2004 – couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

“I just have driven these cars more than Patrick,” Kahne said, “so I have a different way of explaining things compared to what he does. It was good for me to feel what it felt like, and also for his team to kind of listen to me explain it and talk to Patrick about it.”

Carpentier knows he has much to learn, quickly; he made both his NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debuts within a week last August. And with 2008 being the first fulltime season for NASCAR’s new car, he hopes it’s the perfect intersection of opportunity.

I just like the car, I like the way it feels,” he said, adding that he still must work on drafting at Daytona International Speedway. “I mean, the difficult part for me is just understanding what I need with this car to really get it up to the top of the chart. It's going to take some time, just driving it, getting used to it. I love that car. To me, I like it better than the older car.”

Sadler’s assistance, while welcome, can’t come from the driver’s seat.

“Elliott is too tall to get in my car,” Carpentier said of the statuesque Sadler, “but he's helping any way he can.”

Perhaps even more comforting has been the ability to go home at night. Carpentier, a Montreal native, has been a Las Vegas resident since 1999. But punching the clock at his “home track” hasn’t necessarily been easy.

“Been testing all winter,” he said. “Went to a few tracks. 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.”

Kahne, Johnson And Kyle Busch Ready To Compete … Following Carpentier to the infield media center on Tuesday was reigning and two-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), who’s won the last three NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Las Vegas.

Johnson also registered his optimism over the new car’s test performances.

“It's got less downforce and all these things that make it harder to drive,” Johnson said. “But we still end up with the same race. Martinsville was still an awesome race. Dover was the same. Talladega was awesome. You get back to that same thing. It's still a race car on that track, and we're still seeing that same stuff here.”

And although he knows he and his race team are the target among their peers, he’s not worried about pressure to produce a third consecutive series title.

“I don't feel it any more than I would in any year,” Johnson said. “I think when you drive for Hendrick Motorsports, Rick (Hendrick) has a history of setting a high mark. The company has a lot of expectations of its drivers, its crew chiefs. There's a lot expected of us. I feel more pressure from that environment than any outside environment.”

During Kasey Kahne’s lunch-break visit with the media, he admitted he’s feeling more comfortable each day in his new red firesuit emblazoned with new sponsor, Budweiser.

“I think it's too early to tell on a lot of that stuff, you know, how it's going to all work out and things,” Kahne said. “I feel pretty good about it. I've been definitely happy to have Budweiser colors, be working with those people. It's been a lot of fun.”

One thing he does have his eye on is next month’s 50th Daytona 500. Growing up in Washington, Kahne remembers his family hosting breakfasts on race day and watching the race broadcasts with his father.

“I just think it's awesome to be part of the 50th anniversary,” Kahne said. “The first time I went through the tunnel to Daytona, you know, you see the facility, the track, the bank. You can remember so many races that you've seen on TV, so much stuff that's went on. It's neat. It's exciting. It's a great feeling to be part of that.”

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) wrapped up Tuesday’s lunch-break media availability, adding to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate’s Denny Hamlin’s (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) Monday comments on the good communication brewing between their teams and that of teammate Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet).

Throw in the crew chiefs – Greg Zipadelli for Stewart, Steve Addington for Busch and Mike Ford for Hamlin – and Busch’s introduction to the JGR community seems to be a hit.

“Everything has really worked well,” said Busch, who comes to JGR from Hendrick Motorsports. “I've talked to Zippy a lot already this weekend. Working with Denny and Mike Ford a little bit. Of course, my guys, we've been communicating all the time. Steve and I haven't stopped talking to each other or texting each other at night and stuff. We're back and forth all the time.”

Pit Stops …. Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) was fastest in Tuesday’s morning session at 184.256 mph (29.350 seconds). David Reutimann (No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota) was second at 183.986 mph (30.311 seconds). Kyle Busch was third at 183.892 mph (29.365 seconds). Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) was fourth at 183.830 mph (29.375 seconds) and Tony Stewart was fifth at 183.692 mph (29.397 seconds).

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