Expect excitement with Munoz, Conway/Carpenter combo on 2014 IndyCar grid

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Carlos Munoz (pictured) and Mike Conway are as much a contrast behind the wheel of an IndyCar as you could imagine – the former is unpredictable dynamite, while the latter is smooth and controlled.

But both the Colombian and the Englishman have one thing in common: They can make open-wheel followers lose their breath. And chances are, they’ll being doing that a lot in 2014.

After finishing runner-up in this year’s Indianapolis 500 (and gaining more IndyCar experience in fill-in gigs at Toronto and Fontana), Munoz has officially ascended from Indy Lights to the big leagues by joining the IndyCar program at Andretti Autosport, where he’ll drive a fourth Honda next season.

Like a punk rocker grinding out loud notes on his or her guitar, Munoz drove with a bold brashness in many instances across his three IndyCar appearances in 2013. His work draws comparisons to Tomas Scheckter, the two-time IndyCar race winner that competed in the series from 2002 to 2011 and stood out for his aggressiveness.

While the results weren’t always there for T-Scheck, he was often a blast to watch. And it looks like Munoz will have that same trait.

Then there’s Conway, who can provide just as many thrills on the road and street circuits. This past June, he proved just how talented he is on the twisty tracks with a runaway victory in Race 1 of the Detroit Belle Isle doubleheader.

Now, Ed Carpenter’s making room for him at his single-car squad for next year – Conway will strap into the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet on the road and street courses, while oval master Carpenter is taking care of the speedways.

This pairing looks on paper to be a tremendous one. Conway and Carpenter are as good as anyone in the IndyCar paddock in their respective disciplines. Furthermore, it would appear to elevate Ed Carpenter Racing to the status of “contender” at every stop on the calendar.

The USAC product was working diligently to improve his road/street work but should be commended for his “team-first” decision. It’s a sign of his determination to make ECR into a force to be reckoned with, and it’s a sign that he’s got a really smart head on his shoulders.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how Munoz and the Conway/Carpenter combo will fare.

If Munoz can harness his pedal-to-the-metal approach without losing it completely, he’ll become one of those drivers that makes you fork over the price of admission without a second thought.

As for the No. 20 camp, I think there’s a chance we’ll see ECR’s green, white and gold in Victory Lane multiple times in 2014, thanks to both drivers.

Power, Newgarden, Dixon fastest in first of 2 IndyCar practices today at Barber Motorsports Park

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Will Power was fastest in Friday’s first of two IndyCar practice sessions at Barber Motorsports Park.

Power covered the 2.3-mile permanent road course in 1:07.5987 minutes at 122.488 mph in the 45-minute practice session.

Even though he spun off the course during his session, Phoenix winner Josef Newgarden still managed to be second-fastest (121.919 mph at 1:07.9141 minutes), followed by Scott Dixon (121.296 mph/1:082627), Max Chilton (121.251 mph/1:08.2882) and Ed Jones (121.215 mph/1:09.5692).

 

Sixth through 10th were Simon Pagenaud (121.208 mph/1:08.3122), Jordan King (121.113 mph/1:083661), Graham Rahal (121.059 mph/1:08.3964), St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (121.029 mph/1:08.4131) and rookie Zach Veach (121.014 mph/1:08.4216).

Here’s the full speed chart:

Incidents:

* Early in the session, Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi ran off the track and into the grass, striking a small sign, but was able to get back on-track. However, Rossi was only able to complete 10 laps, relegating him to 20th-fastest in the 23-car field.

* Moments later, it appeared the rear brakes locked up on Newgarden heading into Turn 5, spinning him into the gravel trap. He was able to get going and returned to the pits for service and was back on-track with less than four minutes remaining in the session.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The second practice session of the day will begin at 3:50 p.m. ET. A third practice will take part Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET. The race, to be televised live Sunday on NBCSN, is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

* However, weather forecast does not look promising for Sunday’s race. As of 1 p.m. ET today, the forecast calls for 100 percent rain throughout the day.

* Dixon has had an incredible record at Barber Motorsports Park, with seven podium finishes in eight starts there. Except for one thing: he has yet to win a race there. But he does have five runner-up and two other third-place showings on the permanent road course.

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