INDIANAPOLIS – When it comes to the top drivers in the Indianapolis 500 field, excelling at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but never having won the race, Ed Carpenter’s name has to be at the top of that list.
Although he was raised in Marshall, Illinois, just across the state line from Terre Haute, Indiana, Carpenter has become a “Hometown Hero” at the Indianapolis 500. He was part of the family that owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, but Carpenter had earned his position on the track.
Carpenter has won three Indy 500 poles in his career.
“Obviously I’d like to see a first-time winner,” Carpenter said. “There is a time when you can be happy when people are still competing, but at the moment I wasn’t happy to see Helio Castroneves win, I would have been just as upset if Alex Palou had won, or Simon Pagenaud or Pato O’Ward, all the guys before me.
“As time goes by, I will have different feelings about what new history is being made, but for now, I’m living in the moment.”
The graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis is very socially active. The 41-year-old has built a highly successful three-driver NTT IndyCar Series team that includes 21-year-old rookie driver Rinus VeeKay of the Netherlands and compatriot Hoosier Conor Daly of Noblesville, Indiana.
Hard to believe, but Carpenter is competing in his 19th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. Last Sunday he had another great qualifying performance and his fourth-lap average of 233.080 mph puts him in fourth on the grid, within row 2 of pole- Winner Scott Dixon.
With three Indy 500 poles, Carpenter has led 146 laps.
He led 37 laps in 2013 after starting from pole but finished tenth. The following year, Carpenter started from pole again and was probably the best driver of the race when he was involved in a crash with James Hinchcliffe on lap 175. Instead of a win, he finished 27th.
“We were really strong that day in 2014,” said Carpenter. “It still hurts.”
In 2018 he started from pole and battled with Team Penske driver Will Power for most of the race. Carpenter led 65 laps, but in the end, Power’s Chevrolet was only slightly better than Carpenter’s Chevy and he finished second, just 3.159 seconds behind Power’s No. 12 Chevy.
“It’s hard to get second here,” said Carpenter. “It’s the worst place to be. You can go back and analyze a race like this and there are a few places where I could have made the difference.
“The race plays itself out. Last pit cycle, I could have done more on an in and out lap or caught different traffic than he did. But that’s why you run the race.
“It was a good fight between the two of us. Whoever went into the final stint in the lead would likely be the winner. We did everything we could to hunt him down, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Carpenter is proud that Ed Carpenter Racing has been the fastest Chevrolet team at the Indianapolis 500 for the past three years.
“It’s a great source of pride for the team that we want to be at the top,” said Carpenter. “To be the fastest running Chevy for the last three years is something I’m very proud of for the people on the team who have put so much work into having fast cars and fighting for poles and race wins.
“Just because you’re successful one year doesn’t mean you’ll be successful the next. Just because you had a bad year for a year doesn’t mean you’re doomed for another bad year. For us as a team we take what we can learn from an event, positive and negative, and try to get better. You have to do the same work over and over again. They add more layers to be thorough and prepared.
“You have to get stronger while other teams get stronger too. It’s a never-ending urge to try and improve.”
Carpenter has carved his own unique place in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, but more than anything he would love to have his name added to the list of Indianapolis 500 winners.
Throughout his career, however, the quiet man-turned-Hometown Hero has created something to be proud of.
“Winning this race is what I always wanted,” said Carpenter. “The need never goes away. When I was younger I always wondered what my career would be like, if I won this race or not. That aspect doesn’t really interest me anymore. I just want to win this race for me, my family and my team.
“I’m doing this for myself and my family, so if I win it will be very satisfying for us. There is no one in my life who understands how much I put into this, except you. Now that my kids are older, they see this process more.
“It’s fun to have her with me now on this journey.”