Carpenter looking to charge from last to first in Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Arizona – Ed Carpenter has his work cut out in tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway.

The team owner/driver is mired in the last starting position for the 250-lap race on the tight 1.022-mile oval where passing is difficult. He turned just 17 laps in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet during practice Friday afternoon before a leak in the fuel cell was discovered. Without enough time to set up his car, Carpenter qualified 21st Friday evening at 182.409 mph for two laps.

DESERT DIAMOND WEST VALLEY PHOENIX GRAND PRIX: Starting lineup

All is not dim for tonight’s race under the lights, however. Teammate JR Hildebrand is starting a stout third in the sister No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy. Coupled with the fact that Hildebrand and Carpenter ran 1-2 in the Verizon IndyCar Series open test at Phoenix in February, hopes are bolstered for the 36-year-old Carpenter’s heading in.

“Frankly, our cars are really good in race trim,” Hildebrand said. “Ed and the (No.) 20 car will be hauling it from the back, but he’ll be someone to watch in the race, for sure.”

If history is any indicator, Carpenter will be worthy of watching. Starting fifth last year, the 15th-year veteran raced in the top 10 all night before his night ended after 195 laps following wall contact.

Helio Castroneves starts from the pole for a second straight year after setting a track record in qualifying for a second straight year. Castroneves, the 2002 Phoenix race winner, heads up four Team Penske drivers starting in the top five – followed by Will Power (second), Josef Newgarden (fourth) and Simon Pagenaud (fifth).

Tony Kanaan, Castroneves longtime friend and rival from Brazil, heads up the Honda contingent by starting sixth. Kanaan has won twice at Phoenix (2003, ’04) and finished third and fourth in his other two appearances.

“I'm happy with where we're starting,” Kanaan said. “I have a strong track record here at Phoenix, so I definitely think we can get around those Chevys tomorrow and win from sixth."

Tonight’s winner in the first oval event of the season takes all-important momentum into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which includes the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course (May 13) and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil (May 28).

Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix fast facts:

Track: Phoenix Raceway, a 1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona; Indy cars have raced at Phoenix Raceway 62 times in the past, dating to 1964

Race distance: 250 laps / 255.5 miles

Green flag: 9:35 p.m. ET

Race fuel: 85 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol

Defending race winner: Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing

Telecast: 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network

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