LONG POND, PA – Ed Carpenter is the last of an old trend in the NTT IndyCar Series. See, most of the all-time Indy Car greats came to the open wheel series via USAC. Foyt, Andretti, Unser, etc, all cut their teeth running on dirt tracks around this country.
When Jeff Gordon took a different path, the route from USAC to Indy Car was altered. Instead of moving up through the Midgets, sprints and Silver Crown ranks to an open wheel ride, the stars of USAC moved south to pursue a career in NASCAR.
After all, it turned out it was far more lucrative and would gain you more fame. But, one driver stuck by his roots. That driver is Carpenter.
Scan the current Indy Car garage and you’d see most of these drivers come from the karting ranks. Most don’t have the dirt and USAC background like Carpenter does. But, Carpenter is also a prime example of how that path doesn’t really work anymore either.
You need more of a road racing background than a USAC strictly oval series path now. With 12 of the 17 current races being on road/street courses, if you struggle on them, you won’t stay around long.
That’s why Carpenter, an oval ace adapted to remain in the series. See, when came first came to Indy Car in 2004, it was an all oval series. Even when a road course came onboard in 2005, it was just two out of 17. 2006 saw only two road courses, 2007 doubled to four. 2008 expanded to five.
The more the series added road courses, the more Carpenter started to struggle.
But, he won the first race of his career in 2011 at Kentucky. He won again a year later in 2012. After a trying 2013 season, Carpenter decided he wanted to keep racing but wanted to be more relevant overall.
So, he made the brave decision to step out of a full time seat and just race on ovals only. It was a decision then that showed that an oval racing background isn’t going to work anymore. Despite that, Carpenter has stayed around still with the same schedule the last six years.
On Sunday, he earned a sixth place finish in the ABC Supply 500. It was his second of the season as he was also sixth in the May 26 Indianapolis 500. But, where this one stood out is, this was Carpenter’s 50th career top five finish in 180 starts. That’s good enough for 32nd on the all-time list.
He’s one shy of tying Oriol Servia. If you look the names above him now, they’re all greats. Bettenahusen, Pagneaud, Dallenbach, Ward, Hunter-Reay, Wheldon, Hornish, McCluskey, etc.
Carpenter, found a niche for him and it’s working out.