Since 2014, Ed Carpenter has not only been the Verizon IndyCar Series’ lone owner/driver but that year he also became its only “oval specialist”. That year, the Indianapolis native would turn over road and street course driving duties to Mike Conway.
2018 marked year five of the oval-only plan for Carpenter, as he added Jordan King for road and street courses and moved Spencer Pigot to the team’s second full-time entry.
After King ran the first race at St. Petersburg, Carpenter took over at ISM Raceway, the first oval of the season. From 18th on the grid, Carpenter charged his way through the field. At the end of the 250-lap race, he matched his best result at the track from the previous season, a seventh-place finish.
“There’s a lot of positives to take away from this,” he assessed afterward.
“The Fuzzy’s Vodka guys had great pit stops all night. We ended last season on some bad luck so it’s nice to be able to roll the car on the truck. We have a little more work to do on our short oval package, but I’ll take tonight’s finish.”
With the calendar turning to May for the next oval, the focus would shift for Carpenter.
In four of the first five practices, Carpenter was among the top five on the speed charts. Headed into the weekend, the two-time Indianapolis 500 polesitter was among the favorites for the Fast 9.
In his hometown race, Carpenter would prove that optimism was well-founded. He made the Fast 9 for the sixth time, as he trailed only Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves on Bump Day”\. Spencer Pigot and Danica Patrick also made the Fast 9, giving all three of his team’s cars a shot at the pole.
“I’m always looking forward to the Shootout,” Carpenter exclaimed after Bump Day.
“It’s a fun format. Really excited that we have all three of our cars represented with myself and Spencer Pigot and Danica. That’s exciting.”
On Pole Day, the hometown racer stepped up his game even more. The 37-year-old stormed to the pole with a four-lap average of 229.618 MPH. Carpenter became the tenth driver in history to win at least three poles for the Indianapolis 500.
Afterward, Carpenter provided some noteworthy insight into the differences between his 2018 pole and the first two with the original Dallara DW-12.
“It’s never easy qualifying here, but it was — that was on the radio mostly,” Carpenter noted.
“It was a compliment to my team. Every other pole I’ve won here, at least one of the laps, I was right-hand down loose on the last lap, and the balance was just perfect for all four laps.”
Carpenter would be 14th on the speed charts in Monday’s practice, as well as the final practice on Carb Day.
On Race Day, the new superspeedway aero kit continued to suit Carpenter well. He would lead the first 31 laps from the pole and 63 of the first 91 laps.
When fuel strategy began to factor into the race, Carpenter began to fall back a bit. The No. 20 Chevrolet-powered car would lead two more laps during the final pit stop cycle on Lap 171-172 but fell short.
Team Penske’s Will Power crossed the Yard of Bricks 3.1589 seconds ahead of Carpenter. Despite the disappointment of being so close to victory, Carpenter earned his best finish in 15 starts and led the most laps for the second time in his career.
“Yeah, you know, I’ll feel pretty good about this in a couple days, I think,” he remarked after the race.
“The team really did a great job all month long, all day long really.”
Carpenter would return to the car less than two weeks later at Texas Motor Speedway. Duplicating his 2014 win proved to be a tough task for the owner-driver. He struggled early in the weekend, qualifying 14th.
The 248-lap race would prove to be a struggle for the former Texas winner. He fell three laps down and on Lap 172, collided with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens. It would mark the end of the race for both drivers.
Three weeks after the frustrations of Texas, Carpenter returns to the cockpit for the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway. In 11 starts at the .875-mile bullring, Carpenter has posted six top ten finishes. Since the introduction of the DW12, the owner-driver has seen some of his best Iowa results.
His two top-five finishes at Iowa Speedway were in 2012 and 2013 (fourth and fifth), the first two years of the new chassis. 2015’s debut of the manufacturer aero kit would also prove to be a strong outing for Carpenter, as he finished sixth.
Although Josef Newgarden dominated the 2016 race for the team, the last two years have not been as fruitful for Carpenter. He has not finished in the top ten or on the lead lap in either of the last two races at the track.
The Verizon IndyCar Series introducing a new aero kit to the Iowa Speedway this weekend. Carpenter hopes he can recapture some of the success from earlier this year, as well as from his past runs in Newton.
Header image by Shawn Gritzmacher/INDYCAR.