On the biggest stage that the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series has ever had, Abraham Calderon notched his breakthrough victory.
Calderon, 24, of Monterrey, Mexico, took the lead early on in Friday night’s Toyota 120k at Phoenix International Raceway and held on to it to claim his first career win in NASCAR Mexico’s inaugural event in the United States.
He had to withstand a final restart with 10 laps to go following a short red flag period due to Hector Aguirre hitting the wall on Lap 61 of 75 — an incident that also forced a quick repair to PIR’s SAFER Barrier in Turn 1. But Calderon, the class of the field, managed to pull away from runner-up Antonio Perez (the brother of McLaren F1 racer Sergio Perez) and take the checkered flag in his 81st career start.
As you’d expect from a first-time winner, Calderon celebrated with vigor. Following a series of burnouts on the front-stretch that wound up cooking the motor on his World Baseball Classic-backed Toyota, he hopped on the roof and laid across it briefly before standing up to bow several times to the crowd.
“It’s amazing,” a jubilant Calderon told MRN Radio in PIR’s Victory Lane (after, according to NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello, he and his car were pushed there by a tow truck). “I can’t believe it…I can’t even describe it in words.”
NASCAR Mexico’s big night began rather inauspiciously with a multi-car incident on the first turn of the first lap that involved pole sitter Jorge Goeters. All involved continued on, however, and after a restart, Calderon began to creep closer to front row starter Homero Richards before taking the lead from him at Lap 14.
Calderon proceeded to dominate the rest of the opening 50-lap segment of the race and, following a 10-minute break for teams to service their cars, led the entirety of the 25-lap closing segment.
MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.
Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
- 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
- 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish
Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.
While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.
Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.
Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.
In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.