Source: USA TODAY
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has a favorite son on and off the racetrack.
His name is Ed Carpenter, and introductions aren’t necessary here. He has been coming to the Indianapolis 500 since he moved to town at the age of 8. His family owns the track.
His stepfather, Tony George, founded the Indy Racing League that gave him the chance to race an Indy car, beginning with lessons learned in the U.S. Auto Club and the Indy Lights division. The Butler University graduate even won the first Lights race at IMS in 2003.
That makes Carpenter, 32, about as homegrown as it gets despite being born in Paris, Ill.
“Definitely a landmark day,” he said.
Carpenter leaped from fifth to first in the rain-delayed Fast Nine Shootout, using an aggressive car setup formulated by team members he hired for Indianapolis-based Ed Carpenter Racing.
After posting a four-lap average of 228.762 mph, Carpenter watched the rest of qualifying with his wife, Heather, a former nurse from Anderson, who was close enough to kiss him a couple of times.
The only imperfection in Carpenter’s day was that his parents, Tony and Laura, were in South Bend preparing for his sister Lauren’sgraduation from Notre Dame.
“We were kind of huddled around the iPad,” George said. “Conveniently the Mass ended (in time) to see it.”
There was some irony to how the pole-winning effort played out. Carpenter’s first memory of the speedway is watching Rick Mears win the pole for the 1991 race. He was 10 years old and fixed on the action from the Turn 2 suites.
Mears was on Will Power’s side as part of the Team Penske brigade. Roger Penske’s organization has won a record 17 poles for the 500, and Power entered the shootout with the fastest qualifying run of the day at 228.844 mph. This was the sport’s son against its king.
Power’s first lap was 229.119 mph, faster than Carpenter. Behind that cool face was a smile.
“I kind of knew,” Carpenter said. “I figured he would fall off.”
Power did, a lot. Enough to drop to sixth for next weekend’s race.
Carpenter, who also survived pole-winning attempts from Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay, said the difficult part is now ahead for his team. Not the race. Keeping the focus on it.
“A little bit (of celebrating), but I love the race a whole lot more than qualifying,” he said. “I really want to send a message and make sure I lead by example to the team and make sure we don’t forget why we’re really here.
“This is fun, and it’s huge for our team, I don’t want (people) to think that it’s not. But the pole won’t mean much if we don’t go out and perform on race day.”
As is usually the case with Carpenter, who is with his sixth IndyCar team, the moment was allowed to be all about him. The front-row qualifying efforts of rookie Munoz and third-generation 500 driver Marco Andretti — teammates at Andretti Autosport — were significant, too.
“This track and race mean a lot to the other 32 guys that are going to start the race, too,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just special to me.”
Andretti said he was genuinely happy for his friend.
All three front-row drivers were powered by Chevrolet, and that was the theme for the day. Chevrolet had the fastest 10, including five from Michael Andretti’s Indianapolis-based team.
“Right now I don’t have too many words to describe how I feel,” said Munoz, who will do Indy’s first true double by racing in Friday’s Lights race.
Munoz is the highest-starting 500 rookie since Juan Pablo Montoya, another Colombian, started second in 2000 (and won).
Team Penske settled for two cars in the second row (newcomer A.J. Allmendinger and Power). Three-time race winner Helio Castroneves will start eighth.
Honda has its two former race winners — Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, last year’s champion — in Row 6. They will start 16th and 17th, respectively. Neither has won the race from that far back.
Last year’s pole winner, Ryan Briscoe, earned the 23rd starting spot as only 24 were locked in Saturday.
Saturday’s qualifying results
1. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.3689 ( 228.762)
2. (26) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.6581 ( 228.342)
3. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.7139 ( 228.261)
4. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.7907 ( 228.150)
5. (2) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.8264 ( 228.099)
6. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.8342 ( 228.087)
7. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy 02:37.9614 ( 227.904)
8. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy 02:38.0596 ( 227.762)
9. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy 02:38.5411 ( 227.070)
10. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy 02:38.2830 ( 227.441)
11. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 02:38.3209 ( 227.386)
12. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy 02:38.6260 ( 226.949)
13. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy 02:38.7206 ( 226.814)
14. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.0318 ( 226.370)
15. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy 02:39.1543 ( 226.196)
16. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.1808 ( 226.158)
17. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.2434 ( 226.069)
18. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.3681 ( 225.892)
19. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.3768 ( 225.880)
20. (16) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.4268 ( 225.809)
21. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.5219 ( 225.674)
22. (60) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Chevy 02:39.5438 ( 225.643)
23. (8) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 02:39.8117 ( 225.265)
24. (78) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy 02:39.8398 ( 225.226)
Curt Cavin writes for The Indianapolis Star, a property of Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY