Carpenter's lucky late draw leads Chevy qualifying comeback


INDIANAPOLIS – When his 7-year-old son chose the number Friday night to see where Ed Carpenter would go out in today’s qualifying, Dad was hoping for a low number. Six, maybe.

Instead, Ryder Carpenter drew No. 60.

“I was trying to be positive,” Carpenter said with a smile. “I said, ‘Good job, Son. You got one number right.’ He was the first person I thanked when I got out of the car.”

The late draw worked to Carpenter’s advantage, and also to Chevrolet’s advantage. Before Carpenter made his qualifying run, it appeared as if Honda was about to take eight of the nine positions for Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout, which will determine the first three rows for the start of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

But when Carpenter and teammate JR Hildebrand qualified late in the draw, Chevrolet was back in business.

Carpenter recorded the fastest four-lap average during today’s first day of qualifying – 230.468 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet – and Hildebrand followed with the fourth-fastest average – 230.205 mph in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevy – to knock two Hondas out of the top nine and increase Chevy’s chances to win the pole position.

“I for sure take pride in that,” Carpenter said. “Honda has done a really good job, and I know Chevy has been working their tails off to give us everything they can out of these motors, and the aero kit is phenomenal. I hope we’re a Chevrolet team for as long as possible. They’ve been a great partner to me. I’m happy to be able to put both of our cars in there.”

A rain delay earlier in the day may have hurt Chevy’s other entries – namely the powerhouse Team Penske foursome – while helping ECR’s late draws become even later, when conditions were cooler and more favorable to speed.

Qualifying was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET but delayed until 4 p.m. because of rain. Three of Penske’s four drivers – Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud – went out early in the draw. That would’ve been an advantage had things started at 11 a.m., but not after the delay.

Power was the only one of the Penske four to make it into the Fast Nine – sixth-fastest at 230.072 mph.

Instead, the Fast Nine was populated mostly by Honda-powered drivers, including four from Andretti Autosport – Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi, Fernando Alonso and Marco Andretti – and two Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

But the daring efforts by Carpenter and Hildebrand came with both rear winglets removed from the cars. While most teams ran with one winglet removed, ECR took a chance and removed both.

Afterward, Carpenter cautioned against getting too far ahead of the process, but thanked his team for the ability to find speed around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s often fickle 2.5-mile oval.

“It doesn’t mean anything yet,” He said. “We haven’t won anything yet except for the chance to run for the pole. But it’s really a credit to the team and all the work they do. It’s hard to make cars fast around here.”

Competitors marveled at the unusual, daring setup employed by Carpenter and Hildebrand.

“We’re always confused by the Carpenter cars,” said Dixon, who had the third-best run of the day behind Carpenter and Sato. “They run an odd configuration. It’s very little downforce. It’s quite interesting. Ed’s fantastic around this place and has been on the pole (in 2013 and 2014). They do a hell of a job at this place.”

Carpenter was confident that his car would be fast, but wasn’t sure about its consistency over four laps.

“It was a little surprising,” Carpenter said. “I felt like we had a good car all week. I felt like JR, myself and Will Power had the most speed in the Chevy camp. But last night during our qual sims (it) was falling off a little bit. That was my biggest concern going into the run. I thought I could run a 230 lap or two, but I wasn’t sure I could run four.”

After practice sessions beginning at noon ET Sunday, positions 10 through 33 will be determined by qualifying beginning at 2:45 p.m. The Fast Nine will begin at 5 p.m. WatchESPN has coverage from 2:30-4 p.m., with ABC airing the final two hours from 4-6 p.m.

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