ECR to run 3 cars on all ovals with Ed Carpenter racing the No. 33 Chevrolet, a deep dive on why this move works

INDIANAPOLIS — We knew that Ed Carpenter would be attempting to make this May’s Indianapolis 500 field. What we didn’t know was if he’d make appearances at the other four oval races.

Now, we know. Carpenter will run the No. 33 Chevrolet in the expanded Ed Carpenter Racing team.

Carpenter, stepped out of his part-time seat in the No. 20 Chevrolet since Conor Daly brought a substantial amount of money for a new multi-year deal. That allowed Daly to go full time in that ride and push Carpenter to part-time in a third entry. That’s all due to Rinus VeeKay and his funding back in the No. 21 Chevrolet.

Carpenter, an Indiana boy, wasn’t about to not race at Indy. This squad has showed up to Indy with three entries in four straight years including 5 of the last 6 overall. That car was there and he would just use it.

The question was, could they find the funding to bring this car out for Texas, Iowa (doubleheader) and the World Wide Technology Raceway?

They now will.

They announced the move on Carpenter’s birthday which happens to be 3/3. He has three Indy 500 poles and three NTT INDYCAR Series wins which means the “33” number has a connection.

People had been wondering. Pondering at that. How much longer would Carpenter split a seat with another part-time driver in the No. 20 Chevrolet? It was a fundamental shift in philosophy that Carpenter had prior to the 2014 NTT IndyCar Series season.

See, Carpenter knew that road/street courses were really never his thing. He had an oval racing background which included him coming through the USAC ranks. He never had much experience on road/street courses and with the series having a shift of going from more ovals to more road/street courses on it, the championship aspirations of Carpenter dimmed.

When he first joined the series in 2003 (final 3 races) and full-time in 2004, INDYCAR was an all oval calendar. 16 races. All on ovals.

It wasn’t until 2005 that he had to turn left and right when St. Pete, Sonoma and Watkins Glen joined the schedule. Still, it was 3 out of 17.

2007 Detroit was added back to make it 4.

2008 saw the merger with Champ Car and in 2009 came the shift now that we had one unified open wheel series again. Long Beach, Toronto, Edmonton and Mid-Ohio would now join St. Pete, Watkins Glen and Sonoma. That’s now 7 out of 17. Vastly different than three.

So for 2010, Carpenter went part-time. He’d run a few road courses here in there, but ovals were his focus. He won in 2011 at Kentucky as a result.

For 2012, he’d start his own team – Ed Carpenter Racing. He’d win the season finale at Fontana. The thing is, the first two years of ECR and being a single car team with a split between ovals and road courses on the schedule, Carpenter struggled in points. He was 18th in 2012 and 16th in 2013.

At this point of his career, he’d had made 147 INDYCAR starts. He had two wins, five podiums and 10 top fives. All being on ovals. With the 2014 schedule having 18 races on it and only six of them being on ovals, if he was going to help his racing career prolong and help his business going, he had to make a change.

So, he thought outside the box. Why not keep the 20 car full-time but him race what he’s good at – ovals. He’d find a driver that’s good at road/street courses. It would be a perfect pairing.

It initially worked.

Carpenter had four top 10’s in six races for himself including a win, two podiums and three top fives. Mike Conway would come in and win twice himself including the Long Beach Grand Prix.

A big improvement over the seasons in the past but the problem was, Conway didn’t necessarily produce in the races he didn’t win. So, in came Spencer Pigot in 2016. Neither he nor Carpenter could amount to the new second full-time car that Josef Newgarden made a championship contender.

Newgarden left for Penske in 2017 but Carpenter and Pigot ran it back. They’d have four top 10’s between them but no top fives. JR Hildebrand had two podiums in the other car but those were the only top 10’s in total for the 21 ride.

ECR had the right strategy but the stats were slipping. They struggled to find any momentum and continuity.

The 20 car had four different drivers split the ride with Carpenter in a four year span. None of these four drivers would get that car in the top five at the finish.

Carpenter was runner-up in the 2018 Indy 500 but between 2016 and 2019, that and a runner-up at Gateway in 2019 were the only top fives out of this car. Even the bosses stats were slipping.

In that same span (22 races), he had eight top 10’s but only two top fives. He wasn’t really all that close to winning outside of Indy.

2020 saw Daly come in. He gave them momentum but the stats weren’t much different still. Granted though, it was a pandemic and Air Force was bringing substantial money. The speed was starting to show and with what should have been a more normal year in 2021, maybe this thing can get back in the right direction.

2021 was the 10 year anniversary of ECR and they finally had continuity. It was the first time in the decade history of ECR that all the drivers from the previous year were back in the same rides.

“It’s nice,” Carpenter said last year of having the same team in 2021 as 2020. “I mean, it’s the first time really in a long time where we haven’t had any driver turnover. Maybe ever. Within the team itself there wasn’t a whole lot of change, either. A couple changes, but those were all, I think, for the positive. And I think we’re seeing that already in the short amount of time we’ve been on track.

“It’s exciting. Continuity is important, when you have the right group, and we feel like we have that. I think we believe in both guys. They’re both highly talented and have a lot of untapped potential still.

“Really since Josef had left for Penske, we’ve been kind of searching for someone that we believe can be a consistent race-winning driver and championship contender.

“It’s hard when you’re changing even just one driver because it takes time to get them integrated with the team, for us to understand them, them to understand us, because every driver is different, they like different things, communicate different ways.

“Having had that learning, I think we can do a better job for them as a team versus having to reset and kind of establish that relationship with someone else again. It allows the two drivers to work closer together just because they’ve had a year together and know what each other is good at. They know what the other is working on to be better. It’s all positives.”

It started off strong for ECR in 2021. VeeKay found victory lane in the GMR Grand Prix. Daly, led the most laps in the Indy 500. Combined, Rinus VeeKay and Daly led 72 of the 200 laps.

By the end of May, the future was bright for this team. Daly and Carpenter had this 20 car back. Carpenter, even qualified on the front row for the Indy 500. VeeKay was a championship contender.

Then VeeKay got hurt after Belle Isle and missed Road America as a result. His finishes took a hit the rest of the year. While he says the injury didn’t have anything to do with the dip in production, the momentum was lost nevertheless.

Daly’s team ended up out performing VeeKay’s in qualifying and race results but they still weren’t up to par for the course with everyone else. Their stats dipped across the board from the first half of the year to the second.

VeeKay reupped to return and Carpenter wasn’t obviously going anywhere. Daly’s status though was up in the air.

It took a while now this past offseason but ECR was able to make it all work by having everyone back again for 2022. It was always the goal, but with Air Force leaving the sport all together, they needed money to keep this going with Daly and this past Fall, he didn’t have the funding to do so.

Plus, even if Air Force did return, the team was flirting with Ryan Hunter-Reay as Daly’s replacement. Wasn’t that awkward for Daly?

ECR had to do their due diligence. They tested Hunter-Reay and other drivers this offseason.

It’s like your spouse or significant other dating other people. Daly had to sit back and watch while also trying to get the right budget to keep this going. Could he do so before ECR found a third driver?

Luckily for him, his diligence paid off. Daly’s not only back but he’s doing so full-time. Carpenter will now let two full time cars for two full time drivers and himself go to a third car.

This will likely work out well for him now.

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