Skip to content

Indianapolis 500 polesitter Ed Carpenter is better than you think

May 20, 2013, 4:00 PM EST

Indianapolis 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

Throughout his career, Ed Carpenter probably has been derided more than any other male driver in IndyCar racing. And that’s a damn shame.

Carpenter’s a throwback in the modern IndyCar series. He’s a pure bred oval racer, born and raised on the dirt tracks of Indianapolis. A true Hoosier, he’s a Butler graduate with a marketing degree and about as popular within the confines of Marion County as the Indiana Pacers – which are generating a mass number of headlines and attention given their into the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

Had he been born maybe four or five years earlier, Carpenter could have been a champion in the then-all oval Indy Racing League. He made his debut in the championship in 2003 with the small-budget PDM Racing squad for a handful of events, then moved to Red Bull Cheever Racing in 2004 where he struggled.

Come 2005, when his stepfather Tony George created Vision Racing to ensure Ed still had a seat, the die was cast against him. George, of course, created the Indy Racing League and the civil war that followed from 1996 was – and still is – damning to open-wheel racing.

Carpenter’s first few years occurred when there was an influx of teams from CART and Champ Car entering the IRL, and road and street course racing made its first appearance on an IRL schedule.

He’s never been great at road and street course racing, but from where he started in 2005, he’s come a substantial way. Context is important because now, Carpenter may only be about 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace at the front of the field. But whereas 10 or 12 years ago that time would have been good enough for say, anywhere from 10th to 15th on the grid, that now is 23rd to 25th because the field, in spec chassis, is so close.

The steps Carpenter has taken to improve include adding a driver coach in Lee Bentham, a former Atlantic Series champion who never had his shot at the big time. Bentham has witnessed a change in aggression and style. More importantly, although Carpenter isn’t as fast as the leaders on road and street courses, he does his best to get out of the way and not interfere with their running.

When it comes to ovals, you can’t deny Carpenter is currently one of IndyCar’s best. He excelled in the admittedly dangerous “pack racing” era with lower horsepower and higher downforce cars, and took a popular first win at Kentucky in 2011 when he edged Dario Franchitti.

Yet last year, when the formula changed and the series took downforce out of the car to make them more difficult to drive, Carpenter adapted just fine. He drove through the field at Indianapolis and Texas although his results didn’t reflect his runs. Then he concluded the season with another win at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.

Since 2008, the year of open-wheel unification, only a handful of races have been won by teams outside the series’ acknowledged “Big Three” teams of Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. In that time Carpenter, believe it or not, is second only to Justin Wilson in terms of victories (Wilson has three, two with Dale Coyne Racing and the last for the late Paul Newman and Carl Haas).

Carpenter’s race craft at Indy is such that he knows how to bide his time and enter into a position to win in the waning stages of the race.

His pole on Saturday was certainly popular in Indianapolis, if not nationally, yet. And come Sunday, you can be sure Carpenter and the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing entry will be in contention until the very end.

Is he ever going to be a world-beater on road and street courses? Almost certainly not. But as observers, we at least owe him the credit of being one of IndyCar’s best on the ovals, and not dismissing him given his family tree.

Latest Posts
  1. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR Gridiron Challenge pres. by Toyota at 10 p.m. ET

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:30 PM EST

    NASCARGridiron

    CLICK HERE for stream links to the special event involving former NFL greats and NASCAR drivers.

  2. NASCAR AMERICA: Wendell Scott Jr. – My father knew he would be recognized one day (VIDEO)

    Jan 30, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    Credit: ISC Archives Credit: ISC Archives

    The son of NASCAR’s first African-American winner of a premier series race talks with NASCAR AMERICA’s Marty Snider about his father’s accomplishments.

  3. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR Hall of Fame special and induction ceremony at 7 p.m. ET

    Jan 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EST

    NASCAR Hall of Fame Grand Opening Getty Images

    CLICK HERE for stream links to tonight’s NBCSN coverage of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015 Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C.

  4. NASCAR AMERICA: 1-on-1 with the King – and Hall of Famer – Richard Petty (VIDEO)

    Jan 30, 2015, 6:15 PM EST

    (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Petty, a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of inductees, speaks with NASCAR AMERICA’s Kelli Stavast before tonight’s Class of 2015 ceremonies.

  5. A day later, Brazil Indy cancellation leaves more questions than answers

    Jan 30, 2015, 6:00 PM EST

    Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg - Day 3 Getty Images

    Brasilia cancellation provides the latest chapter in the roller coaster ride that has been IndyCar’s international dalliance.

  6. Bowman to drive No. 7 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing

    Jan 30, 2015, 4:05 PM EST

    Bank of America 500 - Qualifying Bank of America 500 - Qualifying

    Alex Bowman joins Tommy Baldwin Racing for the 2015 season, replacing Michael Annett, who left for a ride at Scott Motorsports.

  7. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA from the Hall of Fame red carpet at 4:30 p.m. ET

    Jan 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    nascar hall logo

    Coming up today: Live interviews and red carpet arrivals for tonight’s NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony; a closer look at the careers of all five inductees; Gridiron Challenge preview.

  8. Hulkenberg heading into 2015 under less pressure

    Jan 30, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Previews Getty Images

    2015 will be the first year that Hulkenberg has raced in F1 for two straight years with the same team.

  9. Filippi gets his chance; JR awaits his next opportunity

    Jan 30, 2015, 3:18 PM EST

    Mike Conway AP

    Luca Filippi gets the opportunity several coveted, and will now have the chance to seize.

  10. Ferrari junior Marciello set for busy 2015, balancing Sauber and GP2 commitments

    Jan 30, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    MarcielloAD1 Getty Images

    He is widely touted as being one of the brightest talents on the cusp of F1, but 2015 will be a big year for Raffaele Marciello.

  11. Marcus Ericsson hoping for points in sophomore F1 season

    Jan 30, 2015, 1:45 PM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Brazil - Previews Getty Images

    With Sauber, the Swede hopes he can continue to develop and make up for a difficult rookie year with Caterham.

  12. IndyCar: Marco Andretti is both paying it forward, and set for another number change

    Jan 30, 2015, 1:15 PM EST

    MarioMarco Getty Images

    Marco Andretti set for a new number while Andretti Autosport continues to sort out the rest of its IndyCar lineup.

  13. Toyota to return to the World Rally Championship in 2017

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EST

    © Toyota © Toyota

    After boldly stating in 1999 that “all that can be achieved has been achieved”, Toyota will return to the WRC upon the next regulation change.

  14. NASCAR Media Tour Content Recap: All posts, one place

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    NMTrecap Getty Images

    A full download of all posts from NASCAR Media Tour on NBCSports.com.

  15. Ricciardo ready for new chapter at Red Bull post-Vettel (VIDEO)

    Jan 30, 2015, 11:30 AM EST

    Ricciardo Kvyat 30-1 Getty Images

    Australian driver does not feel under any added pressure in 2015 despite appearing to be the new team leader.

  16. Gridiron Challenge: NASCAR drivers take football stars for a spin (VIDEO)

    Jan 30, 2015, 11:15 AM EST

    HinesWard AP

    First video from Gridiron Challenge now up, in advance of the full event set to air tonight at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

  17. IMSA: Wayne Taylor Racing moved to rear of P class for drive-time violation

    Jan 30, 2015, 10:51 AM EST

    Roar Before the Rolex 24 Getty Images

    The No. 10 WTR Corvette DP reclassified to last in P after drive-time violation at Rolex 24 at Daytona.

  18. Raikkonen confident Ferrari is heading in the right direction

    Jan 30, 2015, 10:45 AM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of USA - Previews Getty Images

    After a miserable 2014, Raikkonen hopes that the new season and a new car will bring better fortunes for Ferrari.

  19. IndyCar: CFH confirms Luca Filippi as road/street race driver of No. 20 car

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:45 AM EST

    Hondy Indy 200 Practice Getty Images

    Italian Luca Filippi will get the nod to drive the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet alongside Ed Carpenter this season.

More from NASCAR America

Elliott: 'Common bond' unites inductees
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. Gordon (1746)
  2. C. Elliott (1321)
  3. K. Larson (1277)
  4. K. Schrader (1181)
  5. J. Clements (1178)
  1. J. McMurray (1094)
  2. M. Waltrip (1065)
  3. K. Grala (1039)
  4. M. Lira (1022)
  5. R. Hornaday Jr. (940)