Ed Carpenter wins pole for the 97th Indianapolis 500

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Thrilling the hometown fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana native Ed Carpenter rocketed to the pole position for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500, becoming the first Hoosier since Pat O’Connor in 1957 to win the pole for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Carpenter, who is the IZOD IndyCar Series’ sole owner/driver, was the fifth of the top nine qualifiers to make an attempt in the Fast Nine pole shootout. But his four-lap average of 228.762 miles per hour in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet was enough to keep him ahead of the entirety of both the Team Penske and Andretti Autosport driving stables.

“I knew we had a shot,” Carpenter told NBC Sports Network’s Marty Snider once he knew the pole was his. “I thought coming in that we had a chance to be either winning the pole or outside the Top 10 — this field is unbelievable. To be able to sit on pole for this race, it’s a really big start to a dream come true…This is just the first part of what we’re here to do.”

“To be a single-car team and win this ‘Chevy shootout’ as I’ll call it, fighting with Penske and Andretti guys — that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. But for this team to put in the hard work and give me what I needed to put it on pole is great. I think a whole lot of prayers went into this, too. Every qualifying run I did today, I was praying the whole way and I was praying when I got done.”

Penske’s Will Power, who had posted an average of 228.844 mph before the Fast Nine, was the last man out and his first lap clocked in at over 229 mph (faster than Carpenter’s average). But even though he was going as fast as 236 mph through the Turn 1 trap during his run, his subsequent laps were not enough to keep him at the top and he was forced to settle for sixth.

In addition to Carpenter, the front row for the 97th running of the “500” will also feature Colombian rookie Carlos Munoz, who easily had the most nerve-wracking run of the Fast Nine but still qualified second with an average of 228.342 mph. On the outside of that row will be Marco Andretti, who posted an average of 228.261 mph.

The second row will feature Venezuela’s E.J. Viso, another rookie in A.J. Allmendinger, and Power. Row 3 will have plenty of star wattage, with reigning series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, three-time “500” winner Helio Castroneves, and the series’ most recent race winner, James Hinchcliffe.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “