NASCAR: Johnson, Bowyer not worried about short Sprint Cup field

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While tomorrow night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway is set to be the first Sprint Cup race without a full, 43-car field since 2001, Cup veterans Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer both said this morning at Kentucky that they’re not taking that as a sign of trouble for the sport.

There has been some movement in the Cup entry list today, as the No. 44 Xxxtreme Motorsports car for J.J. Yeley has been withdrawn due to what the team called “in-house politics that needed to be resolved” on Twitter.

An additional BK Racing Toyota, the No. 93, has been added for Mike Bliss but this weekend’s Kentucky field still remains at 42 cars. However, Johnson and Bowyer took the situation in stride.

“I don’t have any concern with it,” Johnson said to reporters. “If you compare our form of racing to others, we have double the fields compared to a lot of other major auto racing series.

“I hate to see it, obviously. I mean, there’s that prestige of having [a 43-car field] since way back. But I don’t think it has any bearing on the strength of our sport.

“…The fact of the matter is this is the top form of racing, in my mind, in the world – to some, maybe just in North America – and it’s not cheap. I understand why there could be a short field, but there’s no concern on my behalf.”

As for Bowyer, he said that it was more important to have a quality grid rather than getting to a magic number of sorts.

“I don’t think any set number has anything to do with the product of our racing and the sport of NASCAR,” he said.

“It has to do with…being able to put a consistent, race-winning competition on that race track for our fans.

“I think that’s what’s gonna make a good race. It’s not any kind of number you can ever come up with.”

The last time a Sprint Cup race ran without 43 cars was the 2001 season finale at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which featured 42 cars.

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.