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Everything you need to know for Saturday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte

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Winning Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race won’t earn drivers a ticket to this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup or even any championship points.

But a $1 million winner’s prize and bragging rights at Charlotte Motor Speedway – the home track for many in the stock car industry – should ensure that they’ll be plenty motivated to go all-out.

19 drivers are already set for the All-Star Race, with three more coming through Friday’s Sprint Showdown (the top two finishers transfer to the All-Star) and a fan vote.

Qualifying consists of a three-lap run for each driver that must feature a four-tire stop; pit road speed limits will not be in effect. As for the main event, it will be made up of five segments – the first four running for 20 laps each, and the final one running for 10 laps.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the notes and numbers to keep in mind going into the weekend.

NASCAR SPRINT ALL-STAR-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford)
· Two top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 13.5
· Average Running Position of 10.5, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 78.4, 12th-best
· 34 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 211 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.280 mph, ninth-fastest
· 581 Laps in the Top 15 (69.2%), 10th-most
· 183 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 11th-most

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· One win, five top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 10.3
· Average Running Position of 8.7, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 86.4, fifth-best
· 48 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· 267 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.310 mph, seventh-fastest
· 676 Laps in the Top 15 (80.5%), fifth-most
· 246 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· Three top fives, four top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 11.3
· Series-best Average Running Position of 6.5
· Series-best Driver Rating of 110.3
· 80 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 180.575 mph
· 639 Laps in the Top 15 (85.2%), seventh-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Fastenal Ford)
· One win, three top fives, five top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.1
· Average Running Position of 10.4, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 82.8, sixth-best
· 59 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.187 mph, 10th-fastest
· 586 Laps in the Top 15 (77.1%), eighth-most
· 178 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet)
· Three wins, six top fives, nine top 10s
· Average finish of 9.7
· Average Running Position of 8.8, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 81.6, eighth-best
· 53 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· 282 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.684 mph, fifth-fastest
· Series-high 776 Laps in the Top 15 (92.4%)
· 258 Quality Passes, third-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet)
· Four wins, eight top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 6.2
· Average Running Position of 6.9, second-best
· Driver Rating of 106.3, second-best
· Series-high 143 Fastest Laps Run
· 275 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 180.223 mph, second-fastest
· 735 Laps in the Top 15 (87.5%), second-most
· 248 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet)
· One win, two top fives, four top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.5
· Average Running Position of 10.9, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 79.7, ninth-best
· 43 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· 284 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.366 mph, sixth-fastest
· 586 Laps in the Top 15 (69.8%), eighth-most
· 243 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· One win, five top fives, 10 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 6.5
· Average Running Position of 8.7, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 88.3, third-best
· 44 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 286 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.295 mph, eighth-fastest
· 692 Laps in the Top 15 (82.4%), fourth-most
· 253 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford)
· Two top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 4.3
· Average Running Position of 8.4, third-best
· Driver Rating of 87.3, fourth-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 179.726 mph, fourth-fastest

Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Chevrolet)
· Average finish of 14.8
· Average Running Position of 12.7
· Driver Rating of 63.5, 23rd-best
· 211 Green Flag Passes
· 391 Laps in the Top 15 (67.4%)

Ryan Newman (No. 31 CAT-Quicken Loans Chevrolet)
· One win, three top fives, seven top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 9.6
· Average Running Position of 9.5, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 79.1, 11th-best
· 21 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· 304 Green Flag Passes, second-most
· 710 Laps in the Top 15 (84.5%), third-most
· 266 Quality Passes, second-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· Average finish of 12.5
· Average Running Position of 14.8
· Driver Rating of 64.6, 21st-best
· 128 Green Flag Passes
· 184 Laps in the Top 15 (49.7%)

Brian Vickers (No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota)
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 9.3
· Driver Rating of 79.6, 10th-best
· 64 Green Flag Passes
· 113 Laps in the Top 15 (66.5%)

source:

Charlotte Motor Speedway Data
Track Size: 1.5 miles
· Banking Turns: 24 degrees
· Banking/Frontstretch: 5 degrees
· Banking/Backstretch: 5 degrees
· Frontstretch: 1,980 feet
· Backstretch: 1,500 feet

Top 10 All-Star Driver Ratings
Kyle Busch…………………………. 110.3
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 106.3
Matt Kenseth………………………… 88.3
Joey Logano………………………… 87.3
Kurt Busch……………………………. 86.4
Carl Edwards………………………… 82.8
Joe Nemechek………………………. 82.4
Jeff Gordon………………………….. 81.6
Kasey Kahne………………………… 79.7
Brian Vickers………………………… 79.6
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 NASCAR Sprint All-Star races (nine total).

2013 Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 90.672 mph, (01:29:20), 05-18-13
Margin of Victory: 1.722 seconds

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Wins List
1985 – Darrell Waltrip
1986 – Bill Elliott
1987 – Dale Earnhardt
1988 – Terry Labonte
1989 – Rusty Wallace
1990 – Dale Earnhardt
1991, 1992 – Davey Allison
1993 – Dale Earnhardt
1994 – Geoff Bodine
1995 – Jeff Gordon
1996 – Michael Waltrip
1997 – Jeff Gordon
1998 – Mark Martin
1999 – Terry Labonte
2000 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2001 – Jeff Gordon
2002 – Ryan Newman
2003 – Jimmie Johnson
2004 – Matt Kenseth
2005 – Mark Martin
2006 – Jimmie Johnson
2007 – Kevin Harvick
2008 – Kasey Kahne
2009 – Tony Stewart
2010 – Kurt Busch
2011 – Carl Edwards
2012 – Jimmie Johnson
2013 – Jimmie Johnson

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Notebook
· There have been 29 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races.
· The first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race was in 1985.
· 28 have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 1986, the event was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and won by Bill Elliott. That season was also the first year for what is now known as the Sprint Showdown.
· 91 drivers have run in at least one NASCAR Sprint All-Star race, with 76 competing in more than one.
· Mark Martin has participated in 24 races, more than any other driver. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in Sprint All-Star starts with 20, followed by Tony Stewart with 15.
· There have been 19 different winners of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
· Jimmie Johnson (2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013) leads the series with the most NASCAR Sprint All-Star race wins with four.
· Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990 and 1993) and Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997 and 2001) are three-time winners of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip won the inaugural NASCAR Sprint All-Star race in 1985 at 161.184 mph.
· The race has featured a field that ranged from 10 drivers in 1986 to 27 in 2002. This year’s field will have 22 participants.
· Davey Allison (1991 and 1992), Terry Labonte (1988 and 1999) and Mark Martin (1998 and 2005) are the only other drivers to post multiple victories in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
· Davey Allison (1991, 1992) and Jimmie Johnson (2012, 2013) are the only drivers to ever win consecutive Sprint All-Star events.
· Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Ryan Newman (2002) are the only drivers to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race in their rookie season.
· Jeff Gordon is the youngest winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at 23 years, 9 months and 18 days (1995). Mark Martin is the oldest at 46 years, 4 months and 12 days (2005).
· Joey Logano (three starts) leads the series among active drivers with an average finish of 4.3 in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
· Eight drivers including Joey Logano, have an average finish in the top 10 for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race: Jimmie Johnson (6.2), Matt Kenseth (6.5), Tony Stewart (8.2), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8.3), Brian Vickers (9.3), Ryan Newman (9.6) and Jeff Gordon (9.7).
· Terry Labonte won the inaugural Coors Light pole for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race in 1985.
· 16 drivers have won Coors Light poles for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race, led by Bill Elliott with five. Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with three. Carl Edwards won last season’s pole.
· Three drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race: Davey Allison (1991, 1992) Bill Elliott (1997, 1998) and Kyle Busch (2011, 2012).
· The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has been won from the pole position four times; the first three came in consecutive years: Dale Earnhardt (1990) and Davey Allison (1991 and 1992). Kurt Busch posted the fourth win from the pole in 2010.
· The front row starting positions are the two most proficient starting positions in the field, producing more winners (four each) than any other starting positions in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
· Eight of the 29 (27.5%) NASCAR Sprint All-Star races have been won from the front row: four from the pole and four from second-place.
· 21 of the 29 (72.4%) NASCAR Sprint All-Star races have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Two of the 29 (6.8%) NASCAR Sprint All-Star races have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field a NASCAR Sprint All-Star race winner has started was 27th, by Ryan Newman in 2002.
· Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won eight NASCAR Sprint All-Star races: Jimmie Johnson (four), Jeff Gordon (three) and Terry Labonte (one).
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race with nine; followed by Tony Stewart (eight) and Jimmie Johnson (eight).
· Bill Elliott leads the series in top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race with 13; followed by Dale Earnhardt with 12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers with 11 each.
· Five drivers have won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same year: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990, 1993), Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 2001) and Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013).
· In 2008, Kasey Kahne became the first driver to get into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race by the Sprint Fan Vote and go on to win the event.
· Seven times from seven different drivers has the winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race gone on to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway the following weekend: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (1991), Dale Earnhardt (1993), Jeff Gordon (1997), Jimmie Johnson (2003), Kasey Kahne (2008) and Kurt Busch (2010).
· The record for lead changes in a NASCAR Sprint All-Star race is 10 in 2004.
· The record for different leaders in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race is nine in 2002.
· The series best Driver Rating performance by a NASCAR Sprint All-Star race winner was Carl Edwards posting a 141.7 in 2011.

Raikkonen drops five places on Monaco grid after gearbox change

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen will drop five places on the grid for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after being hit with a penalty for changing his gearbox.

Raikkonen qualified sixth for Ferrari on Saturday, but will now start from 11th on the grid after the team made the change on his car following final practice earlier in the day.

The change on Raikkonen’s car came short of the six consecutive races that it is required to last, prompting FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer to refer the case to the stewards, who duly handed Raikkonen a five-place grid penalty.

Ferrari struggled to match the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes in qualifying as Sebastian Vettel could only finish fourth.

Raikkonen did qualify sixth behind Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, but will now have to fight his way back up the order in Sunday’s race.

“The whole weekend has been quite tricky, but this morning the car felt a bit better and for qualifying we improved even more,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we did the right things, but we struggled to make the tires work as we wanted. They were too much on the edge of the grip, the rear was slipping or the front was sliding and in a track like this when you don’t have a consistent good grip you lose a lot of time because of that.

“Obviously we are not happy of where we end up and the penalty due to the gearbox change for sure doesn’t help, but we’ll try to make the best out of it.

“We cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, for sure the race it’s not going to be easy, but usually many things happen here, we’ll try to get the most, to do the right calls in case of safety car and to take the right decisions.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Karam: “From Carb Day to ‘500 race day for the Gas Monkey Energy car”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his fourth entry, after Carb Day and with tomorrow’s Indianapolis 500 now set to launch. You can read his firstsecond and third blogs here.  He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Wow, it’s the weekend of the 100th Indianapolis 500. And I’m ready to go.

We had Carb Day on Friday with all 33 drivers on the track for the final one-hour practice before the big race. As it did on Monday, the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevy felt good on Carb Day. It handles great in traffic. In fact, we stopped early in practice as the car felt very good.

Now, it’s the countdown for the world’s biggest race. I’ve been waiting some nine months to get back in a race car. And last year, my race was short at Indy (went out first turn of the first lap), but I’m back and feel great about Sunday’s classic race.

For the last two years, we have run the same configuration of chassis for me. I have become accustomed to it now. Now I don’t have the experience of a Scott Dixon or a Tony Kanaan. I don’t know if it’s our car or setup, but it is good in race trim. It’s the best kind of feeling I’ve had in a car here.

I think many of the other guys should fall off in the race. I think a lot of cars up front will fall back, and some guys don’t look good in race trim. It’s hard to pass. I feel like there will be a big pack. Guys who can get through the middle of corner should be good in the race.

It’s funny how things change here over the course of the month. I think there was one day in practice last week we tested, and we weren’t bad. I was eighth. I liked how the car was, but we made a big geometry change and then I was lost. We were 16th or 20th. The car was awful, and I couldn’t pass a soul. I felt like I was in Indy Lights car and getting the doors blown off. “Man, this will be an awful month,” I thought.

I told our guys that we need to go back to the car we had on Monday. We did, and right from the get-go it was better. We worked with it a bit. I was passing on demand! I could drive behind all five Andretti cars. This is a great race car. Obviously we missed it in qualifying.

After that bad day, I was telling you about being down in the dumps. I said, “Well, this stinks. I’m gonna run mid-pack and try make something out of it.” Then Monday happened and it was like a light switch went on. I felt super good. When you’re passing people it’s incredible… I passed guys who have won this race before.

And we have a strong team too. We have 90 percent of the same crew as my first year with Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing in 2014. We have a good pit box, right at pit in. I can just focus on squaring it up every time. The guys are working so hard.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

I expected to go to the finals again Friday in the Pit Stop Challenge. We got a tough call when we were put in the right lane – the asphalt lane. There wasn’t any grip there and I spun the tires out of the pit stop. The crew was fast but tires spun. I feel badly for the crew because they did a great job. I thought we could win it. Penske and Ganassi always bring it. I wanted to take the top dogs down Friday.

I’m a big believer in keeping the morale up at the team. Earlier this week, I was just wiping down my mechanic’s bike. He has a bike he rode to the track. I said “Hey, it’s the little things. You work for me and I work for you.” They love that stuff. They’ll be laser sharp focused for Sunday. We can make up time in the pits. Hopefully, by halfway, I can be where I need to be.

I have a shot at this race. I’ve been nervous since Monday. If you actually have a chance to win this race, it’s an incredible feeling. The 100th Indy 500 in general makes you feel good.

So how about becoming the youngest Indy 500 winner in history, and doing so in the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Now that’s a great story, and I hope to pull it off this Sunday.



Kvyat escapes penalty despite failing technical check after Monaco qualifying

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo on track during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat has escaped exclusion from qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix despite his Toro Rosso car failing a technical check.

Kvyat qualified ninth in Monaco on Saturday, and was due to start the race from eighth on the grid after Kimi Raikkonen was given a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

However, Kvyat looked set to be excluded from qualifying when his car failed a front floor deflection test after the session.

“A front floor deflection test was carried on car number 26 [Kvyat],” FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer wrote.

“The vertical deflection under a vertical load of 4000 Newton exeeded 5mm.

“As this is not in compliance with Article 3.17.5 I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.”

However, the stewards confirmed that Kvyat’s car had failed the test due to damage sustained during qualifying, prompting them to allow him to keep P8 on the grid.

“The team produced evidence that the car suffered an impact which reduced the downforce and resulted with a slower lap time than in Q2,” the stewards said.

“Therefore whilst technically the car failed to pass the deflection test, the stewards have decided not to impose any penalty. However the team is reminded that further tests will be conducted and that future failure of the test may not result in the same decision.

“The FIA technical team is requested to further study the telemetry produced by the team and provide a report to the Stewards if appropriate.”

Kvyat spoke of damage to his car that may have contributed to the floor failing the technical check after qualifying.

“I’m not happy with my qualifying today,” Kvyat said.

“I think I hit a curb hard in the third sector during my last run and I don’t know if this is maybe the reason why we lost a bit of time in Q3.

“The car certainly behaved differently compared to Q2, so we now have to analyze this, because we could’ve finished in a higher position than P9. It’s quite disappointing as we know we have a strong car with huge potential.

“Having said this, I’m confident for tomorrow, we have a good chance of scoring points and we will fight hard for them.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Carpenter’s “Team America” trio optimistic of big race day at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet,  drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Conor Daly’s made a big deal about his partnership with Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee’s brand new T-shirt company, ShirtsforAmerica.com this month.

Fellow young American Sage Karam made waves and created running jokes about his own lack of shirts last year.

Yet neither of those two drives for the team you could accurately dub as “Team America,” this month, in Ed Carpenter Racing.

With Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand and team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, there’s a three-headed monster of freedom coming from Rows 1, 5 and 7 in Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Newgarden carries the team’s best hopes with a car, the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, which is considered by many in the paddock as one of the leading contenders to win Sunday’s race.

The 25-year-old American won the Freedom 100 here in 2011 but that would pale in comparison to anything he’d pull off on Sunday, if he pulls it off.

“I got spoiled the first year I was here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “It couldn’t go much better that. But I haven’t had a race here anything close to that since.

“It’d probably be similar, times 10, for the Indy 500. Yeah there’s a great crowd then. But if it were to happen on race day, it would probably be sensory overload.”

Frankly he’s due for a result of any note here given his past four starts have ended 25th, 28th, 30th and ninth. But Newgarden made the key point that finishes in the Indy 500 don’t matter at all unless it’s a win; he’s also got a specially designed Brett King Designs helmet that features a tribute to inaugural 1911 Indy 500 winner Ray Harroun.

“I feel like nothing matters here unless you win,” he told me Monday after the final full day of practice.

“Man, the worst place you can finish here is second. Third is great for points. But it’s another year you didn’t win. Winning is the only thing acceptable at this place.

“It’s more heightened here. People remember who won the Indianapolis 500 and they don’t remember anything else. You come here to win this race.

“It’s a balancing act, but if it came down to it, I’d go for the win over points, because it’s the Indianapolis 500.”

A guy who of course famously went for the win, and lost, was one of Newgarden’s teammates in JR Hildebrand, in 2011.

The driver of the No. 6 Preferred Freezer Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet rolls off 15th on Sunday and sadly his runner-up finish of five years ago still is the first thing that is associated with the talented, still only 28 years old Californian out of Sausalito, who now lives in Colorado.

But the last two years have seen Hildebrand end best of the one-off entries, 10th and eighth, and neither time with the best pit crew.

Now he’s armed with a better crew and arguably an ace in the hole from the engineering side in Steve Newey, who ironically, was a co-owner of the winning car that beat Hildebrand in 2011. Newey was with Bryan Herta Autosport at the time, as the two watched Dan Wheldon’s No. 98 car fly past the semi-stranded JR.

“It’s been interesting working with new guys,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports. “It’s been engineering by committee, in large part because Josef is a legit title contender, so they’ve wanted continuity for his program.

“But here, Steve has been great. He has given a great feel for what goes on at this place. After this extra car effort now the last couple years, I have the best crew now in these three years.”

Both Hildebrand and Carpenter are happier with their cars in race trim compared to what they’ve shown thus far in qualifying. Carpenter starts his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet from the same position – 20th.

“I feel really good with the balance in race trim. It’s been frustrating here and there to not get speed out of it,” Carpenter told NBC Sports.

“But last year we all dealt with cars hard to drive, that were unpredictable and inconsistent. Now they’re consistent and predictable.

“Yeah I qualified better last year, but this year I am more comfortable with our car going into the race to legitimately get up front, much more so than last year.”

Here’s another nicer element of the year for ECR at Indy compared to last year – they’ve been clean.

Massive accidents for both Newgarden (airborne) and Carpenter (heavy Turn 2 plus some air) contributed to a nightmare month in 2015 and yet this month, they’ve all been clean.

Carpenter was also quick to hail Newgarden’s growth and development as he’s ascending into the top tier in the series, and really the only younger driver (south of 30 years old) who’s done so consistently in recent years.

“I think Josef gets better all the time. He’s entering the prime part of his career,” Carpenter explained.

“The biggest difference I’ve noticed here is his confidence, in himself and the car at this track. He’s been one of the guys to beat every time this month. Confidence is building. Car is fast.”

How does Carpenter balance the dilemma of wanting to win an elusive first ‘500 himself versus either of his teammates?

“That’s what good about teammates and having strong ones. It helps at the same time,” he said.

“There’s a couple times this week I thought about taking cars to shop and swapping paint jobs. His is so fast!

“But I’d never do that. I’m so happy that our cars are well prepared. We’re going for it.”