Should Ed Carpenter Focus Solely On ECR?

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This was an eventful week at Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR). After hinting that he was looking for a full-time ride for 2019, we learned on Monday that driver Jordan King would not be returning to the No.20 car of ECR for the non-ovals. The very next day, it announced that Ed Jones would be taking over that ride for the non-ovals as well as a third car (No.64) in the Indianapolis 500, through an arrangement with Scuderia Corsa. Ed Carpenter will continue to contest all of the ovals in the No.20 car, including the 2019 Indianapolis 500; while Spencer Pigot will drive the No.21 entry in all seventeen races on the 2019 schedule.

Ed Carpenter has utilized a similar arrangement since 2014, when he dropped the road and street courses from his schedule and essentially declared himself an oval specialist. Back then it made sense. Ed was coming off a season where he had done very well on the ovals and even finished second in the 2013 season finale at Fontana.

Mike Conway was one season removed from leaving AJ Foyt Enterprises one race early in 2012, after he decided he no longer wanted to race ovals after his horrifying crash on the last lap of the 2010 Indianapolis 500. It seemed to be the perfect match. They had one driver who only wanted to drive ovals, and another who wanted to drive everything but ovals.

The pairing of Carpenter and Conway produced three wins in 2014 and one more podium. Conway won at Long Beach and Toronto, while carpenter won at Texas, had a third at Fontana along with a fifth at Iowa. But a closer look shows that those were the only bright spots for either driver. Other than the two wins, Conway’s best finish was an eleventh, and most finishes were around fourteenth or worse. Along with those three good finishes for Carpenter, his other three oval finishes were twenty-seventh at Indianapolis, thirteenth at Pocono and ninth at Milwaukee.

That season and this past season may have been the two best performances with the split No.20 car. Those in between have been somewhat of a train wreck.

The next season was the lone year for Carpenter Fisher Racing (CFH), when Carpenter merged with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR). From the outside, it looked more like a takeover by Carpenter. They used Sarah’s new building, but used Ed’s Chevy engines. SFHR driver Josef Newgarden came with the deal and had his best season to date. He won two races and finished seventh in the championship. Carpenter partnered with Luca Filippi in the split arrangement. In six races, Ed had two Top-Ten finishes, but had three finishes of twenty-second or worse. Filippi had five Top-Ten finishes, with one being a second-place finish at Toronto.

By the next season, the name above the door that once said Sarah Fisher Racing and CFH, now simply said Ed Carpenter Racing. Newgarden was still with the team and finished fourth in the championship and won one more race. Carpenter was now splitting time with Spencer Pigot for the 2016 season. It wasn’t pretty. Pigot’s top finishes were a ninth at Road America and a seventh at Mid-Ohio. In five races, the best finish Ed carpenter could manage was eighteenth at Iowa and Texas. The other finishes were in the twenties and thirties. Ouch!

For 2017, Newgarden had moved on to the greener pastures of Team Penske where he proceeded to win the 2017 season championship. JR Hildebrand moved into the full-time No.21 vacated by Newgarden. Hildebrand had two Top-Ten finishes which happened to be podiums, but faltered in the majority of other races and was let go at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Carpenter split time again with Pigot with slightly better results than the prior year. Pigot had two Top-Tens in the No.20 car, while Ed improved to a seventh, two eleventh and two twelfth place finishes in six races.

This past season Pigot had moved into the fulltime ride. His first half of the season was abysmal, with no finish better than tenth, with four worse than fourteenth and three worse than twentieth. But something happened to Pigot in the second half of the season. He had four Top-Ten finishes in the last eight races, one being a second at Iowa. Carpenter had four Top-Ten finishes in his six races, one being a second in the Indianapolis 500. He split time with Jordan King, who never finished higher than eleventh on the non-ovals.

For the 2019 season, it will be Spencer Pigot back in the full-time No.21; with Carpenter splitting time with Ed Jones. I’ve let my opinion be known on Ed Jones many times before, so I’ll not beat that dead horse again. Let’s just say I’ve always thought he was overrated and I predicted early this past season that his time with Ganassi would be very short lived. So I was not too surprised when he was replaced with Felix Rosenqvist a few weeks ago.

But my question is…how long will Ed Carpenter continue this split arrangement with the No.20 car? It’s one of the perks in owning your own team. You can call the shots and do whatever you want to do when your name is over the door. So am I asking should Ed Carpenter turn his car over to another driver and run two full car teams and himself in the Indianapolis 500? No. It’s his team and he should do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to run ovals until he is sixty-five years old, that’s his call.

But if you’re asking me what makes the most sense to me, or what I would do if I were a winning driver that owned a team – I think I might do something different than what Ed is currently doing.

With no oval before the Indianapolis 500 next season, it seems to me that next season would have been a good time for Ed Carpenter to focus on his race team and let two drivers have the reins full-time, while he pilots a third car for the Indianapolis 500. ECR is a good team. They’ve shown that in the past and they showed it again this past May, when Ed won his third pole and finished second in the race.

In all honesty, the results at ECR have been disappointing. The sporadic results show they have the potential to be a very good team, but something is missing – consistency. The No.20 has to deal with two different drivers, two different personalities and two different driving styles. It’s hard to develop chemistry among the team. And is the No.20 considered the number-one team? If so, they don’t set the bar very high for the No.21 team.

If his sponsors are happy with the status quo of the team, then I guess he can continue down this path for the foreseeable future. But the most content sponsors have a way of disappearing at the most inopportune times. Remember a couple of years ago when hhgregg signed on to sponsor Marco Andretti’s car? I think that deal lasted about one race before hhgregg declared bankruptcy.

When CEOs change, the attitude of an entire sponsorship can change. After twenty-seven years of being on at least one Chip Ganassi Racing car each year and many championship cars, Target left after the 2016 season? Why? Their marketing goals changed.

Sometimes change is mandated. For twenty seasons, Penske cars were adorned with the unmistakable Marlboro chevron. But after the 2009 season, the federal government stepped in and said “that’s it”.

ECR’s main sponsor is Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka, and has been for years. Who’s to say that the US government no longer allows hard-liquor advertising someday (and please don’t take this as an invitation to start a political discussion)? Can ECR run a two-car team on Preferred Freezer Services sponsorship? These loyal sponsors for ECR will eventually go away. When they do, the mediocre results of ECR could be a tough sell.

It’s not just sponsors that may be turned away. It’s tough to attract top talent to the No.20 car, when they know they will be ineligible to win the championship. If I was a brash young driver and had the non-oval offer from ECR and a full-time offer with the worst team in the paddock – I think I would still take the full-time deal. Rick Mears said a part-time deal with Roger Penske was better than a full-time deal with other teams. He was right, but ECR is not Team Penske.

I really envy Ed Carpenter being able to chart his own course and do what he wants to do. In a sense, he’s living the American Dream. If he can successfully juggle his dual roles of driver and car-owner – more power to him. I just hope that when he does decide to hang up his helmet for good, that he hasn’t sacrificed the future of his race team just to scratch the itch to drive five or six ovals for a few more years. By the time he regrets it, it may be too late. I hope I’m wrong.

George Phillips

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4 Responses to “Should Ed Carpenter Focus Solely On ECR?”

  1. I have felt Ed has needed to step out of the cu for a couple of years. I think he will be a terrific full time owner.

  2. Other than Newgarden who wasn’t his grooming pick to begin with, Ed has a good knack for hiring guys who are good but will never get over that hump into being consistent threats. The Conway pairing was the best and I was sad when it ended. Pigot, Jones, Hilderbrand, etc, none of them are winning anything in those cars. Maybe Ed can hire Servia and Saavedra so he can be batting 1000 in the recycled driver department!

    Time to go to an Indy only program for himself though if he wants to move the team up….

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I really do not struggle with the current arrangement one bit. Nor do I think it is crippling his team, as Carpenter’s success IS quite important to the health of his team at this time. The team was created for and current sponsors are there for Ed to race, even if they are particularly Indy-focused. If he is generally competitive at his oval rounds and if they help prepare him for the 500 (both things that I believe to be true), then he is doing the right thing for his team in this current arrangement.

    I know we would all like to see one of the many fan favorites sitting on the sidelines be groomed into a winner… but Carpenter has often sought funded drivers (including the new Ed Jones/Scuderia Corsa package) for his space in the 20. Ed could hand the 20 over to a full time driver, but it may not be one who fans are clamoring for or who is particularly competitive.

  4. I think it is human nature to conduct one’s life in a way that makes Ed happy, so I expect him to continue doing what makes him happy, even if it does not always make sense to those fans who have no skin in the game.

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