So far, the best move of the young 2014 Verizon IndyCar Season was made off the track, when Ed Carpenter tabbed Mike Conway as his road course specialist for Ed Carpenter Racing. Two races into the season, and it has already paid off in a win at Long Beach and what might have been a very good finish at St. Petersburg, if not for a miscommunication on when to pit.
I’ll admit, until the announcement was made regarding this unique arrangement – the possibility never even dawned on me. When Mike Conway announced he would no longer drive on ovals near the end of the 2012 season, I was certain he would never be seen in the IndyCar paddock again. Many lauded Conway for his braveness for having the guts to admit he was uncomfortable on ovals. Quite honestly, I thought he should be commended for surviving telling his boss at the time – AJ Foyt.
But there were others that thought admitting fear and refusing to run certain disciplines, was cowardly and would mark him forever throughout the paddock. Whatever the case, I thought his IndyCar days were done.
When he won at Detroit in a one-off, but dominating effort for Dale Coyne last season, Conway opened a lot of eyes – probably including Ed Carpenter.
To be kind, Ed Carpenter has not been stellar on road & street courses. Each year, the message was that he had improved – but the stats don’t bear that out. Since the Verizon IndyCar Series started running on road & street courses in 2005, Ed Carpenter has driven in fifty-two of the non-oval races. Of those, he managed only one Top-Ten finish. Let that sink in for a minute. Only once out of fifty-two road & Street courses, did Ed Carpenter manage a Top-Ten – a sixth at Watkins Glen in 2006. For those that are stat-mongers, that’s a Top-Ten percentage rate of 1.9%.
But the flip side of that is that Ed Carpenter is excellent on ovals. In the last twelve oval races, Carpenter has scored two wins, a second and two fourth place finishes, throw in two more Top-Ten finishes and you’ve got a stellar oval record over those twelve races. Don’t forget, he was also the pole-sitter at last year’s Indianapolis 500. Carpenter has established himself as a bona fide contender on every oval and should be listed among the favorites at this year’s Indianapolis 500.
So when you look at this odd pairing, it makes perfect sense. One was superb on the ovals, but was a chronic backmarker on road & street courses. The other excelled on road & street courses, but would no longer run the ovals.
Usually, such a pairing would not fly with both or either of the drivers. Drivers naturally believe they can win on every track. An owner would be hard-pressed to find a driver that would want to give up his position in the cockpit in favor of another. It just goes against their nature.
But in this case, you have a driver that flat-out refuses to run any more ovals. Plus, the other driver also happens to be the car-owner. That makes a huge difference.
Ed Carpenter made this decision as a car-owner. When you wear two hats, sometimes one of them has to be taken off and set aside. That’s what Carpenter did. He made the best decision for his team and sponsor – not what was best for Ed the driver.
I despise the way-overused cliché of “the perfect storm”, so I’ll just call this a case of excellent timing for a win-win-win for everyone involved – Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter and Fuzzy’s Ultra-Premium Vodka. Chevrolet is benefiting from this one-two punch as well. Now, not only is the No.20 car a threat to win on ovals, but road & street courses as well – albeit with different drivers.
Ed Carpenter deserves high-praise for this move. He checked his ego at the door, which is a hard thing for most drivers to do. But he realized where his strengths were, and where they were not. He understood that he was doing his team and sponsors a disservice to remain in the car for road and street courses. He looked around and figured out that Conway was his polar opposite when it came to driving abilities.
Mike Conway is currently second in points. Even if he wins at Barber and/or the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he will accumulate no points for the ovals. Keep in mind; the three five-hundred mile races count double, so it will be like Conway will have missed nine races. So neither Conway or Carpenter will be racing for the driver’s championship – but it is quite possible for Ed Carpenter to win the owner’s championship, even if another driver from another team wins the driver’s championship.
So Conway will have no motivation to ride around and collect points. He will only care about winning races, which could throw an exciting curve into the non-ovals. The excitement that will create, makes this combination of drivers a winning combination for the fans – which is ultimately the most important win of all.
Please Note: I will be traveling over the Easter weekend, so there will be no post here on Monday Apr 21. I will also take this opportunity to take a small break from here, because next weekend starts our in-person racing season. We will be attending Barber next weekend, then I will attend the GP of Indianapolis alone as Susan has to work her part-time job that weekend. But we’ll both be at IMS for the revamped qualifying weekend and of course, the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Counting Easter – that’s five out of the next six weekends to be on the road. So, I will rest this weekend and return Wed Apr 23 and then a weekend of posting from Barber Motorsports Park. Happy Easter, everyone! – GP