After Daytona trouble, Truex wants better headlines from Phoenix

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Prior to Sunday’s Daytona 500, Furniture Row Racing newcomer Martin Truex Jr. had thought that he was to have his best opportunity to win The Great American Race.

And then, on Lap 30, everything went south for him when his motor did. Considering that he’d qualified on the front row for Daytona, you figure that was particularly galling for him.

But what’s done can’t be undone. And so, Truex is looking ahead to this weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, where he hopes to make headlines for the right reasons.

“My thoughts are toward the future,” he said in a team release. “I don’t like to think about what happened on Sunday in Daytona, but a post-race Phoenix headline that reads ‘From Last to First’ would be just fine with me.”

Truex has never won at PIR but comes off a Top-10 finish there last fall in one of his final performances with Michael Waltrip Racing. Like everybody else, he’ll have to find his way around NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying format.

Depending on the track length, the format consists of either two or three rounds. In Phoenix’s case, it’ll be two, with the fastest 12 drivers from the 30-minute opening round moving on to compete for the pole position in Round 2.

Truex figures once people get used to it, the format will “evolve rather quickly” as the assorted minds of the garage come up with ways to make it work for their drivers and teams.

“Regarding the new qualifying system, I am excited about it because [crew chief] Todd [Berrier] is really innovative and he comes up with what seems to be crazy ideas,” he said.

“I think the biggest challenge with this new format is making all the qualifying runs on one set of tires. You are going to need to run hard enough to advance and not too hard to wear out the tires so you can be fast at the end.”

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.