Mike Conway ready to double up on Long Beach IndyCar win this Sunday in Alabama

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Mike Conway’s come-from-behind IndyCar win at Long Beach nearly two weeks ago may have been a surprise to some.

But it wasn’t a surprise to team owner Ed Carpenter or Conway himself. They both had confidence in each other for a strong run and a high finish – and the win was just an added bonus.

“It was a stunning win for the Ed Carpenter Racing/Fuzzy’s Vodka team, as they did a tremendous job preparing the car, making good pit stops and the an excellent strategy for the race,” Conway said.

“There was a lot of banging and shoving at the start and we broke the right front wing. I think the team was more concerned about that wing than I was during the race. The wing was flapping a little but the car was good.”

Conway now wants to double-up on what was his second career win at Long Beach – and third overall win in the IndyCar series (also won at Detroit last year) – with a second straight win in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

The 90-lap race around the 2.38-mile, 17-turn natural terrain Barber course, located just east of Birmingham, Ala., suits Conway’s style just fine.

“It feels very good to come to the Barber track as the winner of the last Verizon IndyCar Series race,” Conway said in a team media release. “I like the Barber circuit a lot. It’s a cool track, very fast flowing. It is hard to pass there, but it’s still possible.”

Conway will split driving the No. 20 Chevrolet with Carpenter this season. Conway will handle all road and street races, while Carpenter will drive in the six oval track events, including next month’s Indianapolis 500 (Carpenter won the pole there last year).

“I think we have a great combination with Ed on the ovals and me driving the streets and roads,” Conway said. “It felt fantastic to repay them for their trust in me.”

It’s a good partnership. Carpenter doesn’t like road/street courses, while Conway doesn’t like ovals. The fact Carpenter won at Detroit, as well as four wins in the World Endurance Championship for sports cars last season, definitely caught Carpenter’s eye.

“I needed to look at the potential of Ed Carpenter Racing,” said Carpenter, the only owner/driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. “While I improved in road racing, I felt it was better overall for ECR and our partners to put a contender in the car for the roads.

“And Mike immediately showed he can find the winner’s circle. People think I was very smart already with the move, but I felt Mike always could win with this team. We have a strong organization at ECR.”

The Long Beach win helped avenge Conway’s disappointing 16th-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla. He was headed toward a potential podium finish, but a miscommunication on the team radio cost him dearly.

Even so, the Long Beach win righted the wrong from St. Pete, elevating Conway to second in the series standings heading into this weekend.

“I qualified on the front row in the first IndyCar Series race at Barber,” said Conway, 30. “I’d really like to do that again. I feel we can transfer the Long Beach win into a good showing this weekend at Barber.”

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.