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The “Andretti Curse” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t stopping the NBC Sports Network team from making Marco Andretti (pictured) their popular choice to win the 97th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon.
Andretti will start on the outside of the front row and has utilized a race-first mentality in preparing for this year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing, unlike last year where he put the bulk of his focus in qualifying. He led 59 laps last year at Indy but constantly had to battle an ill-handling car in the race and crashed out late in the running.
“People said ‘You had a great race car last year,’ but I hated my race car last year even though we led the most laps,” said Andretti on Thursday. “We were hanging on, and that’s why I was so animated on the radio. I knew that crash was coming. I was really hanging on to it, so this year we had a totally different approach.
“Last year, we got suckered in because for me, it was the first time I was able to go for the pole and we fixated on that. This year is the best-case scenario because we didn’t even focus on qualifying and I’m on the front row. And I have a heck of a race car.”
But while Andretti was the most popular choice amongst the NBCSN team on Carb Day (garnering the votes of both Robin Miller and Kevin Lee), he wasn’t an unanimous choice. Marty Snider picked Penske rookie A.J. Allmendinger for the win, while Wally Dallenbach gave James Hinchcliffe his nod. Jan Beekhuis thinks Helio Castroneves can become the first foreign-born four-time winner of the “500,” and Bob Jenkins, who returned to television for NBCSN’s coverage of today’s festivities, is going with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
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.