Ed Carpenter, driver and owner for Ed Carpenter Racing, bounced back from a disappointing finish at the Indianapolis 500 to win Saturday evening’s nationally televised Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Carpenter has made just two starts this season as he is splitting driving duties with Mike Conway, but he has extremely impressive in both. After being in strong contention for the win at Indianapolis only to be knocked out of the race with 25 laps remaining after being caught up in an accident, Carpenter made sure he ran up front throughout the late stages of the Firestone 600, leading 66 of the final 67 laps of the 248-lap event.
“It’s just good to bounce back,” Carpenter said. “Nothing really totally makes up for a missed opportunity, but at the same time, it always feels good to win, especially at a place like this.”
Heading into this Verizon IndyCar Series season, Carpenter decided to split his team’s driving duties. He would be an oval-only competitor and English driver Mike Conway was brought on board to compete on road and street courses for the Chevrolet-powered No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing team. Just eight races into the season, the move has paid off handsomely thus far with the team notching marquee wins with Conway in Long Beach and Carpenter’s win in the Firestone 600.
“(The team) has been giving us great cars all year for myself and Mike (Conway), so it’s nice to be able to deliver,” Carpenter said.” I’m just really proud of the whole team and the effort and proud to be able to represent Fuzzy’s and do a good job for them with how much they’ve supported us the past two-and-a-half years. It’s good for everyone involved.”
Carpenter dominated late in the Firestone 600 and appeared to be coasting to victory with an 18-second lead before Takuma Sato’s No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Honda engine blew with seven laps remaining. The caution brought the cars together again for a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.
While most drivers pitted under caution, including points leader Will Power who was running sixth at the time, the top three - Carpenter, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan - all stayed out.
“On one hand, I was nervous because I wasn’t sure what the right decision was for us to make,” said Carpenter on the decision to not pit. “It’s hard to pit, but we were pretty far into our tires and you know new tires are going to be strong.
“I figured we’d stay out with that few of laps left. I wasn’t sure how many guys would pit. I knew some would, but just fortunate there were three laps left and we were able to get a good enough restart. I’m guessing probably many more laps left than what we were going to have, we probably would have had to pit. It was a handful the last couple laps, but you get in that position and I’ve got to make sure I bring it home for the guys. I felt like it was our race to win.”
A great restart gave Carpenter the space he needed to cruise to the win, but Power’s four new tires on the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet propelled him from sixth to second. Had there been many more laps remaining, it looked as if Power would catch the leader.
“Certainly new tires are a pretty big advantage when we were about 30 some laps into mine,” Carpenter said. “Certainly wouldn’t have been able to hold him off much longer, but there were only four laps to go, three to go when we took the start, so the guys made the right call.”
The victory was the third of Carpenter’s career and his first since winning the 2012 season finale at Fontana. In his previous 12 starts at Texas Motor Speedway, he had just one top-five finish – fourth last year – and led one lap (2009) before breaking through Saturday night to become the first American to win at Texas since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2007.
Power, with his runner-up finish, extended his Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead from 19 to 39 points over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet), who finished 10th.