FORT WORTH, Texas – Perseverance and plain hard work helped Ed Carpenter Racing turn the miserable into the acceptable at Saturday night’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600.
Drivers Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand were both running comfortable near the front midway through the 248-lap race Texas Motor Speedway, despite each being assessed an early penalty and Carpenter surviving a 360-degree spin without making wall contact in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. The impressive maneuver even made ESPN “SportsCenter” highlights.
Both ECR drivers, however, were caught up in the main incident of the night, when nine cars were involved in a crash on Lap 152. Following extensive work by their crews, Carpenter and Hildebrand continued and salvaged 11th- and 12th-place finishes, respectively.
“I’m proud of the Fuzzy’s Vodka guys putting in the extra work,” team owner/driver Carpenter said. “The easiest thing to do would have been packing up and heading home. I’m thankful for the drive of this team, getting back out there and finishing with both cars.
“There was a lot of torn-up stuff tonight, but all things considered we got out of it all right for crashing twice.”
Carpenter started the race from 14th position, but picked up five spots on the opening lap. The 2014 Texas winner ran as high as fourth early before settling into the back half of the top 10 for the second race stint. He was in eighth place on Lap 103 when the front of his car made slight contact with Tristan Vautier going through the dogleg headed toward Turn 1 at more than 200 mph.
Carpenter’s car performed a complete spin and kept going without damage other than a cut tire. By stopping for unapproved service before the pits were opened, INDYCAR ordered Carpenter to take the ensuing restart on Lap 107 from the back of the field, in 19th place.
Carpenter had climbed back into 10th when he was caught up in the “big one” on Lap 152. Able to drive back to pit lane after the incident, the No. 20 crew worked on the car during the ensuing red-flag stoppage – knowing Carpenter would be assessed a two-lap penalty when the race restarted. By completing some 75 laps after repairs were made, Carpenter picked up seven positions and valuable championship points in finishing 11th.
“It was a wild night,” Carpenter said. “We overcame a lot of adversity. First the spin – I was hoping for a spin and win – and then got caught up in that big one. But there’s no quit in Ed Carpenter Racing. As many cars as were crashed out, we figured we’d patch it back up and salvage some points.”
Hildebrand, meanwhile, started 18th in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy and came out in 10th after his first pit stop. But he was cited for speeding on pit lane and assessed a drive-through penalty under green-flag conditions, dropping the Californian to 19 place.
From there, Hildebrand began a meteoric charge that had him back in the top 10 within 20 laps. He climbed as high as sixth and was running in ninth – right in front of Carpenter – when his car, too, was collected in the nine-car crash. The No. 21 Chevrolet was towed to its garage and the crew had begun tearing down pit-lane equipment, thinking the night was done, when the decision came that the car could be fixed.
Like Carpenter, Hildebrand was penalized two laps for the car being worked on during a red flag. He returned to log 65 laps and finish 12th – also seven positions better than had the ECR crew closed the toolbox and not repaired his car.
“Huge credit to the team for recognizing that there was an opportunity to fix the car, get back out and pick up some positions,” Hildebrand said. “The Fuzzy’s Vodka crew killed it. With no setup pad (in the garage because it had been taken down before the race), the car that I rolled back out there with could have competed for a top-five finish with no problem.
“I’m really proud of the guys. It is a big confidence boost for everyone. The day goes totally sideways and we’re able to end on a positive note, which always feels good. Ed and I were both able to take advantage of the team doing awesome work. Hopefully this kind of gets us on a bit of momentum heading into the rest of the year.”
Ed Carpenter Racing and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series teams get their next chance in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The race airs live at 12:30 p.m. ET June 25 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
For more information about Team Chevy, visit https://www.facebook.com/TeamChevy/.