With Indy pole captured, Carpenter sets sights on bigger prize

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Since he was a little boy, Ed Carpenter — Indianapolis native, Butler University graduate, and stepson of IZOD IndyCar Series founder Tony George — has known how important the Indianapolis 500 is. Perhaps that is why he’s taking his pole position for the 97th running in stride, instead focusing on what lies ahead next weekend.

“This is a good start,” said Carpenter, who shocked the high-powered Team Penske and Andretti Autosport teams to win the pole with a four-lap average of 228.762 miles per hour. “I want to make sure to keep the team focused because I hope this is Part One of a really magical month. We’re here for Race Day.

“This is awesome and it’s bigger than our [race] wins, and it’s huge for the team…It’s definitely a landmark day. But I don’t want to get overly focused on this, because we have a lot of work to do yet.”

Carpenter, the owner of his own single-car squad, delivered a victory for the little guys this afternoon and will get to enjoy a week’s worth of bragging rights, 15 championship points, and an extra $100,000 — which is always nice to come across when you’re in his position. But while he considers it, in his words, “an honor” to win a pole at Indianapolis, he knows very well that people only remember who wins the race at the Brickyard.

He’ll think about today’s accomplishment, but just a little. Then he’ll think about how to get an even bigger accomplishment next Sunday.

“I love the race a whole lot more than qualifying, and I really want to send a message and make sure I lead by example for the team and make sure we don’t forget why we’re really here,” he said. “This is fun and huge for our team — I don’t want to think that it’s not — but the pole won’t mean much if we don’t go out and perform on Race Day.”

A race victory would be a culmination of sorts for Carpenter, who grew up racing midget cars before migrating over to open-wheel formula racing. In his early years in IndyCar, he was sometimes mocked as a driver that was only in the sport because of his family connections. But as time went by, he began to earn a solid level of respect and wins at Kentucky in 2011 and Fontana in 2012 cemented him as one of the best oval racers in the paddock.

Now, Carpenter has the opportunity to make his biggest dream come true in front of his hometown fans, who let him know just how much they appreciated his efforts by loudly cheering him on in the Fast Nine and at the end when he had the pole sewn up.

“It gives you confidence knowing that people are behind you,” he said.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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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.