Wheeling your way around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an aspiration for countless drivers. Heck, it’s an aspiration for those of us who have never even piloted a professional race car. It’s a legendary track whose lore is as tangible as the Borg-Warner trophy itself.
The track decides. Yes, she decides who wins the pole. She decides who wins the pole. She decides who has a good day of practice and who is just along for the ride. She decides the pace of the race. She decides.
This past weekend, she decided that Ed Carpenter was due for his third Verizon P1 Award at the Yard of Bricks, and boy did he make hitting a 230mph lap look effortless.
He celebrated in pit lane with his kids and wife, received congratulatory hugs from fellow Ed Carpenter Racing drivers Danica Patrick and Spencer Pigot, as well as pole-contender Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Team Pesnke Pennzoil Chevy), and the driver he bested for the position, Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Team Penske Menard’s Chevy). I so appreciate those moments, the human side of racing… when the ego can take a back seat and competitors are able to give each other a hand shake and a smile and say, ‘good job, man.’ We need a little bit more of that in our world.
Carpenter’s best finish in the ‘500’ was P5 back in 2008 after starting P10. That was one of four seasons where he finished higher than he started – he finished P11 in 2005 and 2006 after starting from P26 and P12. In 2009 he started P17 and ended up with a P8 result. Qualifying seems to come easy to him, having started from no worse than P2 for four of the past six seasons.
We have had winners from as far back in the field as P28, and the pole-sitter has won 20 times, Helio Castroneves being the most recent in 2009. The possibility of Carpenter winning and becoming even more established as a ‘hometown hero’ is not out of the realm of possibility this weekend. In fact, it feels like this could be his moment.
Carpenter has led 74 laps at the ‘500’ over 5 contests, and has finished 9 of his 14 starts on the IMS oval. The only drivers in the field who have more experience in the ‘500’ this year are Scott Dixon with 15 starts, Tony Kanaan with 16 and Helio Castroneves with 17. Those three drivers all have their face on the Borg-Warner and Carpenter is more than ready to join that cast of characters.
“I don’t want to just be considered a guy that can win poles here. I think we always work hard on our race cars, but we really put in a lot of work this last week, especially with the weather approaching, not knowing how many days we were going to get. I truly am focused on the race, which we always are. I just keep getting in the situation where my team gives me really fast cars, and when you’re in a position to go compete for poles, it’s hard to not do it.
Really excited for Sunday. I think this new car, it does race a little different than the other cars, and clean air maybe is a little more important than it has been in the past, so definitely feel fortunate to be in this position coming up for next week.”
That nod to his team is important, because their work on all three cars this month has yielded amazing results. Not just a pole position for the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but they earned a P6 with Spencer Pigot in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevy and a P7 with Danica Patrick in the No. 13 GoDaddy machine.
This Sunday, Ed Carpenter will lead the field to green for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 and his teammates will not be far behind. Will he be able to run a clean race, stay out of trouble and have her on his side? I’m of course referring to the track, herself. She will have the final word on whether Carpenter gets to quench his thirst with a bottle of milk in victory lane, or if he’ll have to wait yet another year to try again.