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

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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.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s

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After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points


The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage