Tough luck at Kentucky doesn’t have Dale Jr. bummed

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Early damage to the front end of his car kept Dale Earnhardt Jr. from having a chance to convert a Kentucky pole into his first victory of 2013, but NASCAR’s most popular driver tried to stayed upbeat after finishing 12th in today’s Quaker State 400.

“It’s good to drive fast cars, and eventually things are going to work themselves out,” said Earnhardt, who was leading at Lap 38 when he hit a tire carcass that came from Denny Hamlin’s car and had moved onto the track.

The collision caused grille and splitter damage to Earnhardt’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, which led to multiple stops on pit road to have his crew try and fix the damage. But Earnhardt could only do so much with the car afterwards, which suffered from a tight condition as he battled to get out of mid-pack.

“It’s good to be fast, can’t do anything about what’s happened to us,” said Earnhardt, who has suffered three straight finishes outside of the Top 10 going into the Sprint Cup Series’ return to Daytona International Speedway next weekend.

“I’m disappointed in our luck. You can’t let that take away from how well the cars have been running; we have been doing everything right.”

Earnhardt instead hailed his crew for doing as much as they could with his wounded Chevy.

“The guys did a good job on pit road all day long working on it and trying to fix everything,” he said. “I’m not sure we got everything back where it is supposed to be, but we did well-enough to get a decent finish out it. Just proud of how hard the team worked.

“…They worked hard on it to get it right, and get it good enough where we could run well, so they deserve a lot of credit today.”

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.