Can Ed Carpenter Win The Indianapolis 500?
With all the prognosticating that will go on for the remainder of the Month of May, the usual names are tossed about. Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon are the most common picks, because between the three of them – there are seven Indianapolis 500 victories. Picking any of them is not really a case of sticking your neck out. Just behind them might be Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and perhaps James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato. Ryan Briscoe may be a sentimental favorite since he is no longer a full-time driver. Tony Kanaan has been a sentimental favorite for years and will be again this year, mainly because his window of opportunity is closing.
Curiously, except for Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee on Trackside, I never hear or read the name of Ed Carpenter as a favorite to win this year’s Indianapolis 500. It could be for the fact that Ed is currently twenty-third in points. But remember, there have been no ovals yet this season.
Ed started out the Month of May by posting the fastest lap on opening Day – just beating out Josef Newgarden for the top spot. On Sunday, he was eighth quick. Monday and Tuesday, he slid back to twentieth and eighteenth respectively.
To say that Ed doesn’t shine on road and street courses is being kind. To be blunt – he’s terrible. Every year, we’re told that he has really worked on his road course program in the offseason, but every year he is still running at the back of the field on non-ovals. Case in point – at the most recent race in São Paulo, Ed Carpenter was the last car running at the end of the race. He finished twenty-third and four laps down. At Barber and Long Beach, he finished twenty-second and eighteenth respectively – after beginning the season with a relatively decent fourteenth place finish at St. Petersburg. If his performance hasn’t improved by this point, more than likely it never will.
But that’s his story on the non-ovals. On ovals, it’s a totally different story. That is where Ed Carpenter shines. He won the last oval race that the IZOD IndyCar Series has raced – last year’s season finale at Fontana, which also happened to be a 500 mile race. He also won the last oval race of the 2011 season at Kentucky, while driving for Sarah Fischer’s team. To pull off oval victories while driving for small, under-funded team is no small feat.
Ed Carpenter is a throwback. He came up through the USAC ranks driving midgets. He drove two seasons in what is now the Firestone Indy Lights and was the winner of the inaugural Freedom 100 at IMS in 2003. Later that season, he drove a handful of races for PDM Racing in the IndyCar series. His first full season in IndyCar was 2004, driving as a teammate to owner Eddie Cheever. It was not impressive, and that was still when the series was entirely ovals. His best finish that season was eighth at Kentucky and two eleventh-place finishes at Milwaukee and Pike’s Peak.
After Carpenter was dropped after his one season at Cheever Racing, he couldn’t find a ride. His stepfather Tony George stepped in and created a team for Ed, calling it Vision Racing in reference to the IRL being Tony George’s vision. At first, I considered the team laughable and somewhat of an insult to fans and quality drivers who didn’t have such resources at their disposal. But over time, the team built some credibility as they had some pretty good people on staff. But then John Menard decided to focus on his own son’s NASCAR career and pulled his sponsorship away from Vision Racing after the 2009 season. At this same, Tony George had been ousted as CEO of IMS and decided to resign his post at IndyCar. Vision closed shop and Ed Carpenter was unemployed.
He ran a few races in 2010 with Panther Racing and then a partial schedule in 2011 with Sarah Fisher. After two second-place finishes at Kentucky in 2009 and 2010, Ed Carpenter finally broke through with a win at Kentucky in 2011. He followed that by winning the 500-miler at Fontana last September as a first-year owner-driver..
Last year, Carpenter had a very impressive oval campaign for such a small team. Not only did he win at Fontana, but he finished eighth at Iowa and Milwaukee and twelfth at Texas. He ran as high as third late in last year’s Indianapolis 500, before a late spin led to a twenty-first place finish.
Ed Carpenter knows his way around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He grew up in the shadows of the track and is an Indianapolis native. He is also one of the few college graduates in the series, having gotten his degree from Butler University in 2003. He is a humble and quiet native Hoosier with a dry sense of humor. He is also smart enough to honor his family ties, while totally distancing himself from the racing politics that have tarnished the reputation of his stepfather.
But getting back to the original question of this post – Can Ed Carpenter win the Indianapolis 500? The answer is a resounding YES! His team is small, but is staffed with smart people. He has the powerful Chevrolet engine and has a history of going fast at IMS. If he were to win, it would be a popular win. There are some who cannot separate Ed Carpenter from his stepfather Tony George. They somehow connect Ed with all that ails the sport, simply because his stepfather created the infamous split in 1996. That’s insane.
Ed Carpenter is his own person. Those that know him say that he is as good a person as you would want to meet. His reputation is that he is about as normal a driver as you’ll find in any top racing series anywhere. He is very easy to cheer for – even when he’s not in contention, which is fairly often. But this May, he will be in contention. I expect him to be in the Fast-Nine shootout on Pole Day, as he was in 2011. I also expect to see him running at or near the front on Race Day.
So can he win it? Certainly. Will he win it? Well…maybe. But his name at least deserves to be part of the speculation in the next several days.