IndyCar’s Ed Carpenter watching NASCAR’s scheduling moves with interest

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Ed Carpenter Racing has become the “Hometown Team” in the NTT IndyCar Series because of his deep roots in the Indianapolis community.

IndyCar’s only owner/driver in the series, said Friday he is keeping an eye on NASCAR’s return to action to help prepare his team for IndyCar’s return.

The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series is scheduled to return to action June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR might return to action without spectators in mid-May. That would make it the first big-time racing series to return to competition since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown began the weekend of March 13.

Carpenter said he is watching NASCAR’s potential return to action with interest in hopes that IndyCar can follow shortly thereafter.

“I think everyone is watching that,” Carpenter said. “Beyond that, I think one of the great things that we’ve seen in motorsports is I think everyone is really working together and communicating. Everyone is trying to do the right things not only for our sports, teams, businesses, employees, fan bases, the world. I know there’s a lot of communication going on from what I’m included in. There’s a lot of collaboration.

“I know there’s a lot of work being put into all the different scenarios of when and how we can go racing, what that’s going to look like, what the steps are. We’re all doing what we can do and following the guidelines from our federal government, our local government, and working with them to figure out how to best bring our sport back to life.

“I know we’ll be watching NASCAR. I know the IndyCar guys are in communication with NASCAR. A lot of the promoters are the same promoters. We’re all working together to try to understand how to do this, how to do it the right way to not only bring our racing back to the fans that want to see it but also do it in a safe way to where we’re not going to create new issues during this pandemic.”

The Butler University graduate has built a pretty formidable operation. He is a three-time Indianapolis 500 pole-winner. Carpenter finished second to Will Power in the 102ndIndianapolis 500 in 2018 and sixth last year.

Carpenter continues as the team’s oval driver in the No. 20 Chevrolet with 28-year-old Conor Daly of Noblesville, Indiana driving that entry on the street and road courses. Rookie Rinus VeeKay is the driver of the team’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ed Carpenter Racing is one of IndyCar’s mid-level teams. ECR doesn’t have the resources of a Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing or an Andretti Autosport, but it remains highly competitive.

Carpenter has been able to keep the operation stable during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I don’t know the toll has been any harder for us than any other team,” Carpenter said Friday. “We are a team sport even though the drivers are out in front of everything a lot. We race six months of the year, but we’re together 12 months of the year.

“I would say the hardest thing is just not being with one another, being separated. Just like all of humanity, there’s a ton of anxiety during this entire time.

“I think for myself and other members, the management of the team, just trying to be there for our employees and reassure them, make sure we can find ways to continue to provide for them is my No. 1 priority right now, that when we can get back to work, everyone is in a very good position to do so.”

Carpenter is known for his mild-mannered personality. That ability to keep everything on an even-keel has been important for Carpenter during this massive time of uncertainty.

“It has been I think stressful for all of us, but I’m pleased with the way our people are responding,” Carpenter said. “The work they are doing behind the scenes that we can do right now virtually and from home, is important. I know that everyone is chomping at the bit to get back.

“It’s for sure been a challenge I think more than anything just dealing with the anxiety of when we can get back to work, when are we going to go racing, not being able to leave home.”

Carpenter estimated his team would need only a week or a week and a half to prepare once IndyCar teams return to action. The season currently is slated to begin June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I really don’t think it will take that long to get us going,” he said. “The stuff came back from (the postponed opener at) St. Pete and got unloaded. Really haven’t touched anything since then. Kept everyone on board.

“When we can get back to work, which we’re hoping is sooner than later, I don’t see the Texas date being an issue for us to be ready for.”

Carpenter also indicated the team is solidly behind Rinus VeeKay’s rookie season effort in 2020. He wants to give the rookie from The Netherlands a full season of action to evaluate his talent for the future.

“My excitement level for Rinus is still very high,” Carpenter said. “He is an extremely talented young man. It is going to be a hard year to be a rookie. With all likelihood we’re going to not have testing or highly reduced testing. Some race events can be shortened as far as the amount of practice time, et cetera.

“I think talented guys, are able to get up to speed quickly. That’s one of the things that he impressed us with when we first tested him the first couple times. It was how quickly he was able to adapt not only to the car but a track that he hadn’t been doing in IndyCar. Or a track he hadn’t been to, at all, was really able to get up to speed quickly.

“There are going to be some challenges having a rookie in an abbreviated season like we’re going to be in. I believe he’ll be up to the challenge. We’ll be able to do some other things as a team to support him, help nurture him through that progress.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.