A year on from Karam battle, Carpenter just wants any result at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – For all its use of “#IndyRivals” as a hashtag and marketing point, the Verizon IndyCar Series hasn’t had much in the way of actual rivalries to actually sell.

But 12 months ago in the cornfields of Iowa, two Americans did IndyCar’s marketing job for them, in Ed Carpenter and Sage Karam.

Carpenter, the now 14-year series veteran (albeit part-time for several of those seasons) had the experience, wisdom and veteran savvy of someone how knows how to race.

Karam, then a rookie, was the brash, unapologetic upstart unafraid to dice it up and occasionally overstep the line of racing sensibilities.

The contrast in styles nearly came to a head last year at Iowa, Karam racing Carpenter quite hard throughout the 300-lap Iowa Corn 300 to where Carpenter knew he needed to talk to Karam post-race. Karam was third, Carpenter sixth, and their battle upstaged the two Americans that finished 1-2 for the second straight year in Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden.

Anyway, flash forward to today and Karam won’t have a chance at an encore performance because he’s not in a car.

Carpenter, meanwhile, hasn’t finished that high in any race he’s started since – and considering Carpenter’s renowned, still, as one of IndyCar’s top oval racers, that’s something that needs to change.

This will only be Carpenter’s fifth race start since Iowa last year and he hasn’t even finished a race since then.

At Pocono last August, Carpenter retired with engine woes. Then in his two completed starts this year, he brushed the wall in Phoenix and retired with electrical gremlins at the Indianapolis 500. The Texas start, he said, went well before that race was temporarily suspended until August 27.

As Carpenter related to NBC Sports on Friday, it’s been a weird year or so since this time last year from a driving standpoint, even though the Ed Carpenter Racing team has been firing on all cylinders as a team.

“It’s getting frustrating!” Carpenter admitted, as he’ll start seventh today. “It’s been a weird year. Indy, we had some electrical issues. I was more disappointed last year because our cars weren’t set up right. This year, we just had issues.

“Phoenix, I made a mistake. We were on for a good run. Texas was good for us early. But I’ve yet to finish a race this year. It’s been either an issue, rain, or whatever. So I want to get a whole race in. I want to get back on a podium or win a race. It’s been too long.”

Upon reflecting on his battle with Karam last year, Carpenter said he has no regrets.

“I would do it all over again,” he said. “I felt like with the whole situation, I wanted to send a signal or message. And I did that. I don’t think anything bad came out of it.

“Perhaps some people didn’t like how I handled it. But so long as the emotion is controlled and genuine, it’s fine. I wouldn’t be mad at my guys for doing the same thing. If they did it with the right angle, so be it.”

Carpenter – the driver – also has to monitor teammate Josef Newgarden, who continues to progress and drive despite his clavicle and right hand injuries. The pair are in matching Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolets this weekend, only separated by their on-board camera mount color (Carpenter’s is red, Newgarden’s yellow) and helmet liveries.

“He’s definitely not 100 percent yet,” Carpenter said of Newgarden. “There’s still quite a bit of discomfort in his hand. But better than at Road America.

“It’s a different race here. He’ll be fine. It’ll be uncomfortable, but once he’s in the car it’ll be next to impossible to get him out. The adrenaline should get him through.”

Carpenter returns to the cockpit for the first time since Texas but in an oddity will be making his first race start since the Indianapolis 500 in May. Spencer Pigot has since taken over the reins of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on road and street courses, and was a career-best ninth last time out at Road America.

Carpenter, who tested with Newgarden’s de facto reserve and key team asset this year JR Hildebrand last week at Iowa, said the track is slightly different and the race complexion will be different being a day race (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but still expects it to be entertaining.

“Yeah it’s a little bumpier but its pretty insignificant in how it will affect our cars and the racing. The track is in great shape,” he said.

Things he also hopes will be in great shape? The position of his No. 20 Chevrolet on the pylon this Sunday afternoon, after the year-long dry spell without a finish.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.