Four-wide finish in Freedom 100 goes to Peter Dempsey (VIDEO)

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A four-wide drag race to the checkered flag in today’s Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was won by Peter Dempsey, who nipped Gabby Chaves to the yard of bricks by .0026 of a second in a wild final lap. The top four were separated by just 0.0443 of a second, and the margin of victory is the closest in the history of IMS. Also, the win is the first in Firestone Indy Lights competition for both Dempsey and team owner Brian Belardi, of Belardi Auto Racing.

On the white flag, Carlos Munoz (who will start second in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500) was leading by a slim margin over Sage Karam, with Chaves close behind. Munoz and Karam had been nose-to-tail for a good portion of the race, but with victory at Indianapolis on the line, Chaves joined in and the trio of drivers went three-wide through Turn 3 and 4.

But then Dempsey joined in and as the quartet of drivers headed for home, he tucked in briefly behind Chaves before going all the way toward the outside wall on the front stretch. With himself, Chaves, Karam and Munoz blanketing the entire width of the racetrack, the thrilling finish went to Dempsey.

“Hats off to the other three guys,” said Dempsey. “Fortunately (Chaves) left just enough room to squeeze by. This is exactly what this series needs. You’re not gonna get it better than four-wide across the line.”

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Chaves, like his Schmidt Peterson teammate Karam, might not sleep well in the nights to come.

“A couple of feet more, and this would have been my race,” he said. “I did everything I could up until then. I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep for a couple of nights before I can let it go. I was just sitting there waiting for my moment.”

Karam ran second behind Munoz the whole race, but ended third just ahead of the Colombian.

“The whole race I just put myself into position to win it,” he said. “I was going to make a move in Turn 3 to win it. I was on his attenuator the whole race. I popped high and just couldn’t hold it. I just couldn’t get the momentum. Great race, great finish. It was such a strategic race.”

Munoz’s teammate for Andretti Autosport, Zach Veach, completed the top five. The two other Schmidt entries – Jack Hawksworth and series debutante Kyle O’Gara – crashed out of the 40-lap race.

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.