What to watch for: IndyCar at Iowa

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– Critical day for Marco, RHR: Andretti Autosport has won four times in the IZOD IndyCar Series’ six events at Iowa Speedway, with Marco Andretti winning in 2011 and Ryan Hunter-Reay taking the checkered flag last year en route to the championship. Both of them need to come through with results as they both try to reel in championship leader Helio Castroneves. RHR currently sits second in the standings and lost nine points to Castroneves yesterday after he won the pole (he’s now 25 points off the Brazilian’s pace), while Andretti has slipped to third after electrical issues stopped his run one weekend ago in Milwaukee.

– Bump day, literally: Ask anyone that’s lived in the Midwest – the summers can be hot as a broiler and the winters can be stone cold. Those particular patterns have helped make for a bumpy ride at Iowa Speedway, particularly in Turns 1-2, where the bumps have helped end the day of more than one driver in the past. As mentioned earlier this week, they’re not as bad as they used to be, but teams will still have to make sure their cars are set-up properly in order to deal with them.

– Carving through traffic: Like last weekend at Milwaukee, the short oval at Iowa will put emphasis on dealing with lapped traffic. But with laps ticking by in the 17-to-18 second range, drivers will have to make their decisions quickly when they come upon the backmarkers in the field.

– Fatigue is a factor: Didn’t we just say this? Well, it’s worth emphasizing again. Everybody in the IndyCar paddock is ready for a weekend off after this race, which will end the most grueling stretch they’ll have all year. But teams and drivers alike must remain mentally sharp for a little while longer. Minds can’t wander at 185 miles per hour or on pit road during critical late-race stops.

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.