Story By: PHILLIP B. WILSON / INDYCAR – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Ed Carpenter respectfully tried to appreciate finishing second.
But he’s wanted this first for too long. His heart just wasn’t into too much acceptance immediately after ending up a disappointed runner-up in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday.
“I’ll feel pretty good about this in a couple of days, I think,” Carpenter said.
He can hopefully see the upside to the finest finish in 15 Indy 500s. His previous best was fifth in 2008.
He can hopefully think about how his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet led a race-high 65 laps, six more than winner Will Power of Team Penske, and the most Carpenter has ever led in this race.
Carpenter had said after winning the pole for a third time one week ago that he didn’t want to be known for just that. He can hopefully rest just a little easier now — as if proof was needed, considering he’s won three Verizon IndyCar Series races — after showing again he’s not just a quick qualifier.
“I think when I look back on this month, that’s probably where I’ll feel really good about it,” Carpenter said. “We were strong just about every day, with all our cars, held that level of consistency and performance through the month.”
Indianapolis is an annual opportunity for Carpenter, the series’ only current owner/driver, to fixate just a little more on the race he’s dreamed of winning since he was a kid. The adopted son of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Tony George practically grew up at this track and adopted this city as his hometown, especially as a proud Butler University graduate.
Each May, he can be counted upon to deviate from his normal, understated demeanor to emphasize and reiterate the significance of this race.
As he was searching for the words to describe the day’s events, Carpenter the owner made a brief appearance.
“Hopefully this will be a springboard for the team to jump into the back half of the season, have Spencer (Pigot) finally break through with some results,” Carpenter said. “Jordan (King) just needs to catch a break. He’s been in a good spot, too. Hopefully this is going to be a springboard for the team to help the team make some strong finishes, win some races.”
His Ed Carpenter Racing teammates had more reason to be glum than him. A drive-through penalty for a pit speed violation cost Pigot, who had qualified sixth but finished 20th. And the much-publicized, final-race-before-retirement return of Danica Patrick ended with a Turn 2 crash on Lap 68 and 30th place.
Carpenter likened this best chance of winning at Indy to 2014, when he won the pole and was among the leaders before James Hinchcliffe bumped him in Turn 1, and they both crashed out of the race on Lap 176.
Power, who had qualified third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, eventually gained an advantage on Carpenter after the latter encountered too much traffic on an out lap from a pit stop on Sunday.
“I thought we were both pretty good,” Carpenter said. “I think consistently we were probably the best two cars, it seemed like. I think if the roles were reversed, he would have probably not been able to get by me, either, outside of a restart.
“It was just really tough to pass another strong competitor today without having lapped traffic, in the pit or something else that was a mistake. Track position was hugely important. He maybe seemed to get a little better than us. I would probably say we were a little stronger early in the day. My car seemed to pick up a little more understeer as the day went on. We couldn’t seem to make enough adjustments to overcome that.”
Carpenter went over in his mind what he could have done differently. There were a couple little things, he said, but didn’t mention them.
“It was his day and not mine,” he said.
As Roger Penske and his powerhouse organization celebrated a record 17th Indy 500 victory, Carpenter showed class in congratulating the winner.
“I’m really happy for him,” Carpenter said of Power. “He’ll make a great champion.”
Hopefully in a couple of days, Carpenter can see more clearly the positives of his solid run. It sounded like acceptance and appreciation were just around the corner.
“At the end of the day, we had a chance to go fight one of the best teams and drivers for the 500,” Carpenter said. “It’s something I’m proud of. Like I said at the opening of this, I’ll probably feel better about it in a couple days. It’s a little salty right now.”