From the “this makes so much sense we can’t believe it’s happening” department, Ed Carpenter Racing has signed JR Hildebrand to its second car for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Hildebrand, whose second place in 2011 netted him that year’s Rookie-of-the-Year honors, will compete alongside Ed Carpenter in the team’s No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet.
Commercial partners are yet to be determined but Hildebrand’s stock rose after his impressive performance in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, where he nearly won in a cameo for Bryan Herta Autosport. Carpenter finished second that race in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka entry.
“Ed’s team has been very strong on the ovals the past two years, including winning at Fontana and taking the pole position at last year’s ‘500,’” said Hildebrand, via IndyCar.com. “Working with Ed and his staff at Indy gives me a lot of confidence going into the world’s biggest race. I can’t wait to jump into the No. 21 Chevy and get back to the Speedway.”
Added Carpenter: “JR has been the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and an Indy Lights champion, so his credentials are very impressive. It is great to have another American driver in the 500 this year and competing with ECR. We believe a second car at Indy will assist us in preparing for a strong performance in this year’s Indy 500.”
This marks the first time the third year team has expanded to a second entry for the Indianapolis 500. Additionally, it is the first confirmed “extra” Chevrolet entry to join the manufacturer’s 10 full-season entrants.
Carpenter will race the six oval races this year; Mike Conway the other 12 road and street races in the No. 20 car.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.