We sat high above the start/finish line on the straightaway to watch pole day. It was a great place to watch the cars fly by as each driver strove to get the most out of their car and it was a great place for someone without a photographer’s vest to sit. The morning session had been great, spots 10-33 getting slotted in. Then it was time for the speed show, the Fast 9 shoot-out. Last year had been an amazing speed show and this would be the first with the new aero kit. We were all waiting to see what times would be posted. Simon Pagenaud (Chevrolet-Team Penske) had held the top spot but then Ed Carpenter (Chevrolet – Ed Carpenter Racing) went out and put up a speed of 230mph. To say the place erupted would undersell the excitement. This was Hometown Hero Ed Carpenter; he graduated from college mere miles away from the Speedway. Until recently his team had their headquarters just down the road from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (until the recent construction on Main Street started, you could stand outside of the building that housed Ed Carpenter Racing and see the IMS). He then was the pole sitter, and then everyone held their breath. After Ed came Helio Castroneves (Chevrolet – Team Penske), unbelievably fast and also a crowd favorite. But after the first lap, Helio was running vastly slower than Ed. A gasp seemed to emanate from around the speedway as everyone knew what was about to happen. Ed Carpenter had clenched his third pole. Carpenter would ultimately come in second during the race, continuing his chase of the elusive prize. The Indianapolis 500, to win that race is the ultimate prize in American (and I would argue world-wide) racing, but to Ed Carpenter it is his white whale.
For Ed to win, it would be the completion of a circle. He, along with Conor Daly, is the hometown racer. Both racers also have familial ties to the track as well. For Ed he is in the INDYCAR family, Tony George his stepfather. Tony George, as we all know, was a major player in the IRL/CART split. As argued before, that IRL maintained the Indianapolis 500 race they ultimately won in the split. The race is the crown jewel of the INDYCAR series there is familiar pressure I believe for Carpenter to win the race. It is why, in part, he now splits time in the #20 car. In 2014, Carpenter begain to have two drivers in the #20 car. He indicated at the time that splitting time between the car was necessary to effectively run his team, but there is more than that. By splitting time, Carpenter is focused on, and racing only, oval races. Does this work though? We joke about Ed only doing oval and call him an “oval specialist”, but he will need to make a decision and recent news indicates that such a decision will need to be made at the end of next season.
Ed Carpenter Racing had their first season in 2012, and starting in 2014 Carpenter starting splitting the car with another driver. The switched seemed not provide an overall bump to Carpenter’s record. Prior to splitting (2012-2013) Carpenter received three Top Tens, three Top Fives, a win and one pole; after splitting he received eight Top Tens, three Top Fives, a win and a pole. The only difference is that higher number of top ten finishes, that is understandable when you’re taking a slightly longer time period (2014-2018). Aside from an unnoticeable increase in statistic, splitting a car not only damages Carpenter’s chances at earning points towards a championship: it harms the chances of whomever is his Road Course Buddy. There’s also splitting time between driver and team owner. It’s two different hats that can must switch on and off within mere minutes during oval races. There are decisions a team owner must make that a driver will be upset about – can someone objectively make that decision when it involves their actions as a driver? Can you? I know I would have such a hard time with those decisions: a driver wants to put everything on the track and earn points, but a team owner must not only see this race but what happened in the past race and what may happen in future races and look to every driver on their team.
Is it worth it? Perhaps. Carpenter’s record at Indy has looked to be up. Prior to splitting the car he had achieved one top ten and one pole. Following the split he achieved one top five (nearly a win) and two poles. His team in general also has shown an increase in placement at Indy. In 2016 future INDYCAR Champion Josef Newgarden qualified second and finished the race third. In 2018 every Ed Carpenter Racing car rolled off of the truck fast. The three cars ended up in the fast nine with Danica Patrick qualifying seventh, Spencer Pigot qualifying sixth, and of course Carpenter had the pole. Carpenter’s hand may be forced sooner than he anticipated. When I first started to think about this question there was no issue with ECR sponsorship. Recently it was announced the Fuzzy’s Vodka (who had been with the team since their formation in 2012) was done with motorsports sponsorship. Carpenter announced the team would continue for the 2019 season…but what about 2020?
Can Carpenter find sponsorship for the team? More importantly will another sponsor come on board when you have an owner split time in a car? The 2019 Indianapolis 500 may be the most important race now for Carpenter. I believe should he win the race, he’ll step back out of driver rule and become team owner and boss full time. If he doesn’t win he will have another question to ask himself, is it economically feasible for a split ride?
I believe that if Carpenter does not win the 2019 Indianapolis 500 he will need to take on a different role. Boss of the team every month except May and be the third ECR car for that very prestigious race. I write this, by the way, as a huge fan of Ed Carpenter Racing. I’m a Hoosier through-and-through and my first loyalty is to Hoosier drivers. I am interested in your thoughts. You can let me know your comments below, or if you’ve come here through our Facebook groups – feel free to add our thoughts to that post.