Ed Carpenter talks Newgarden’s win and preparing for superspeedway aero kit at Indy

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It’s a great week to be Ed Carpenter.

The co-owner of Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing saw his driver, Josef Newgarden, run away with his first career Verizon IndyCar Series win Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park. It was also the first win for the recently merged CFH Racing.

“I was really, really happy for Josef when the merger happened, and it was unknown if he was going to be coming back at that point,” Carpenter said during a Wednesday conference call. “He had another offer, and (I) spent a lot of time talking to him and trying to sell him on how we can help him, and to be able to go out and get a win early in the season, I think makes him feel good about his decision and validates the belief that we all have in him and his abilities.”

When CFH Racing unloads at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend to begin preparation for the Indianapolis 500 with an aero kit test, it will do so with three teams instead of two.

In two cars will be Newgarden and JR Hildebrand. The third will be driven by the 34-year-old Carpenter, who replaces Luca Filippi in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy on the 2.5-mile oval, driving for the first time since the 2014 season finale at Fontana.

“It’s always a little extra work when you add Indy‑only efforts,” said Carpenter, who has won the Indy 500 pole two years in a row. “For a team like us, you’ve got to bring in people that are just going to be working for you for a month, so integrating them into what we do and keeping things flowing can be a challenge, but for the most part it’s the same group that we had with J.R. last year, so that helps a lot.”

Carpenter said preparation for May has been more challenging this year due to getting ready for the new superspeedway aero kit, which makes its on-track debut Sunday in a test at IMS. It’s been “down to the wire” for CFH Racing to acquire parts for not just the test, but the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500.

But don’t expect to see teams being conservative during the month in the build up to the 99th running of the race.

“It’s the Indianapolis 500, and there’s only one reason to be there, and that’s to try to win, and you can’t do that and be conservative,” Carpenter said. “As a driver you’re not thinking about those things, and even the team, when you get out on track.  But I don’t foresee there being a supply problem moving forward.  I think the biggest challenge is just getting everyone their initial orders and spare orders fulfilled, and from there they’ll start building up a bit of a buffer.”

Carpenter won’t be conservative in his first on-track action this season, which isn’t the first that Carpenter has only competed on ovals. He did so last year, earned his second Indy 500 pole in two years and won his third career IndyCar race, taking the checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway. So rust shouldn’t be a problem for the owner-driver when he once again goes for the pole.

“When you get to that point you know you have a chance, you’re going for it,” Carpenter said. “We’ll wear the tires out in that 10‑mile run probably more so than we would in a full fuel load at race downforce, so you’re just really, really abusing the tires, sliding around a lot.

“I think it takes a lot of focus and a lot of commitment to make that pole run.  But it’s definitely challenging and stressful, but it’s also really satisfying when you get it right.”

The road to the 2023 Daytona 500 is not paved for Travis Pastrana, he’ll attempt the DIRTcar Nationals

Pastrana DIRTcar Nationals
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.

In mid-January, it was announced Pastrana will attempt to qualify a third car from 23XI Racing that fields fulltime entries for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Sponsorship will come from Black Rifle Coffee, who approached him during the offseason to ask what kind of “really cool stuff” he would like to do. Pastrana replied, “the Daytona 500” with a characteristic laugh in his voice.

“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”

But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.

After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.

Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”

The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.

And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.

While Pastrana is accustomed pitching his car sideways on a combination of left and right turns in a rally car – he won the Nitro Rallycross race at ERX Motorsports Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota last October and became the first two-time winner in the 2022/23 season at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona in November – the DIRTcar Nationals will be an entirely different proposition.

It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.

“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”

Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.

Travis Pastrana will race one of Steve Arpin’s dirt modifieds during Florida Speedweeks as he prepares for the 2023 Daytona 500. – Jacy Norgaard, World Racing Group

The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.

“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”

And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.

“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.