The Best Move Of The Young Season

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.

George Phillips

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


6 Responses to “The Best Move Of The Young Season”

  1. Ed proves that he is becoming a terrific car owner and wants to win. I was impressed by his work shown on the NBC program that featured drivers. He was cool but firm with his team for a screw up at Iowa that took the car out of contention. I knew then that he was going to eventually be a winner. I was also blown away by his winning the Pole at Indianapolis. Go Ed!

  2. When Indycar first wen t to the proposed 50-50 split of ovals and road courses with a champion with each, I foresaw some teams running just ovals and others just road courses. I didn’t expect what Carpenters team did with one driver for each discipline but it makes sense. If Indy ever gets back to a 50-50 split of oval and road courses, you will see a lot more of this.

    Mike Conway did the right thing. There are a number of drivers out there with precious little experience in oval racing. You just don’t get much experience there if you come from outside the US. There are probably drivers out there in Indycar that should not be driving ovals due to lack of experience. I believe this has driven the move to an overload of road/street courses despite anything else that is being said. There should be minimum experience requirements for Indy drivers for both oval and road courses.

    I’ve become a big fan of Ed Carpenter’s. Its nice to see that he is another team that can defeat the evil twins of Penske and Ganassi.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    This setup could also result in Ed’s team becoming even more of a threat on the oval tracks. I think he can be considered a favorite to win the Indy500 this year. He will be my favorite.

    The lack of oval track races in the current IndyCar schedule is likely one of the main reasons why young USAC stars like Kyle Larson don’t get hired. Then their fans follow them to NASCAR.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    This looked like a good move when ECR announced it and the first two races have certainly supported that position. Still, I was and am a little disappointed for Ed Carpenter as a driver. Despite not being very competitive on road and street tracks, Ed had worked hard to improve his skills on the non-ovals and seemed to have come to enjoy driving them.

    I actually would not mind seeing Ed return as a full-time driver in the not too distant future… as that likely means his team would be fielding 2 cars full-time.

  5. “He checked his ego at the door” – George Phillips

    If only we had more like Ed Carpenter in the IndyCar series. If only his step dad had the same attributes -imagine where the series would be today. Imagine the direction it could have gone instead of the direction it did take. Checking your ego at the door is an extremely difficult thing to do and an extremely rare characteristic to find in this day and age. As a matter of fact I would venture to say it’s nearly impossible attribute to find. If this is for real I wish this team unprecedented success. As we all know , egos have handicapped this series since its inception and have castrated it hundred times over. So here is to Ed Carpenter and his success in the future…. cheers.

  6. One other thing: this whole concept of having multiple drivers for one car depending on the venue whether it be a road course or an oval-hmmmmm. I see this as a brilliant solution to success in a series where money and resources typically dictate one’s results. Could this idea nearly be an accident or a historically brilliant plan that many teams will copy in the future. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the IndyCar series is the variety of venues that caters to different disciplines. It’s the only series like it . That’s why I think it’s the best series in the world . If only everyone else felt the same way. It’s interesting to watch a single driver attempt master all of the disciplines. That is a rare talent however. Maybe Ed just figured out a way around it.

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