Ed Carpenter concedes he had a stronger 2016 as an owner than as a driver. Then after the Verizon IndyCar Series season ended, he lost his best driver.
Josef Newgarden parlayed three wins in two years for Ed Carpenter Racing into a ride with Team Penske. Carpenter is convinced the team he has built and maintained for five years will endure.
As a three-time race winner in his career, Carpenter has driven the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on just ovals for the past three years and allowed other drivers to hop into his car at street/road courses. Carpenter the owner made the decision based on what was best for the team. Although winning the Indianapolis 500 is always his No. 1 goal, Carpenter expects more from himself as a driver than a pair of 18th-place finishes, his best showings in five starts this season.
“As an owner, I’m super proud of the team. Josef had another career year, the second one in a row,” Carpenter said of Newgarden finishing fourth in the points, a personal best and the highest-ever team finish. “For me as a driver, this was a really challenging year just because things didn’t go well. I didn’t get any results, I didn’t win any races, I didn’t feel like I really achieved any of my goals.
“But when I look at it in its entirety, and not making excuses but just looking at how things played out and some of the mechanical issues we had compared to how we were actually running when those things happened, I actually feel better about it. I think I did a better job managing my duties as a driver and team owner. I feel like my team feels like I did a better job. So I’m happy about that. I’m just disappointed I personally didn’t get the results I was hoping for.”
Now, Carpenter the owner must make an important decision moving forward without Newgarden. The options include two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who was replaced by Newgarden at Team Penske. Two-time Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz could also be a consideration. He’s not yet been re-signed by Andretti Autosport, for whom the Colombian has had a full-time ride the past three years. JR Hildebrand, who has driven for Carpenter the past three years at Indianapolis, is also in the mix.
Carpenter is confident another driver can join his team and replicate Newgarden’s success.
“For whomever is driving our cars with and alongside me,” Carpenter said, “we’ll be prepared to continue to be a factor in this series.”
He said that with conviction just before the season’s final race, the Sept. 18 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. He offered that assurance before Newgarden had officially departed, knowing what it could mean losing such a hot commodity, but resolute that his team is strong.
“I feel like we’ve done enough as a team, that we’re a desirable destination and that we’ll have good options,” Carpenter said. “I feel like we get stronger as a team each and every year. We’ve got a good thing going here.
“I think our team is as strong as any team in the paddock. It’s a championship team, with or without Josef, and our goals won’t change. Our goals were the same before we were with Josef. We had high goals and had achieved them. I’m sure we can do the same with others.”
Carpenter, 35, last won at Texas Motor Speedway in 2014. Two of his three career poles are at the Indianapolis 500. A look at his 162 career starts is a reminder of determination and perseverance. He didn’t enjoy his first top-five finish until his 48th start at Chicagoland Speedway, where he placed fifth for Vision Racing in 2006.
“I don’t like to act like we’re a small fish because we’re not,” he said. “We’re a professional team that does things the right way. I know what we do. I don’t really know what they do and I don’t care what they do. We feel like we have a good system, we’re building something and it gets better every year. I wouldn’t trade any of our guys for any of their guys. I think we’ve done a good job of figuring it out. We get more consistent each and every year. That’s really what it’s taken to get to a championship-caliber point. Ability, performance-wise, it’s been there."
Not that winning a championship is the ultimate goal for Carpenter, the driver.
“Can I win a title? The team can,” he said. “The desire I have is to win the Indianapolis 500. I don’t give a crap about championships as a driver. If I had won 10 Indy 500s, I wouldn’t trade one for a championship. The Indy 500 is what drives me as a driver and, in large part, what drives the team.
“As far as chasing a championship, that’s a team goal and a personal goal that I’ll fulfill through the team. But for me, I don’t feel like me not winning a championship as a driver is going to change how I feel about myself whenever my career as a driver is over with.”
Carpenter’s best finish in 13 Indy 500s is fifth for Vision Racing in 2008. He’s had just two other top-10s at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, eighth for Vision in 2009 and 10th for his own team in 2013, when he started from the IMS pole for the first time.
Rookie Spencer Pigot drove seven road/street races in Carpenter’s car this season after beginning the year with three starts for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Pigot’s best finishes were with ECR, a seventh at Mid-Ohio and ninth at Road America.
While Carpenter the driver is tempted to race more on the street/road courses, Carpenter the owner isn’t inclined to change the ovals-only approach for the No. 20 car next season.
“I love driving and being in the car, but I think when I made the decision to do that I didn’t really view it as a temporary decision,” he said. “The reasons why I made the decision then were really to help the business. I still feel strongly about the reasons I made that decision.
“There’s some things, if I did run more, where it could help us as a team. But I think what we’re doing now works. I’m pretty happy with where I am professionally and personally. Why mess with it if it’s working?”