NASCAR

Ed Carpenter seeking breakthrough at Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)

It has been a topsy-turvy season for Ed Carpenter.

He won the pole for the Indianapolis 500, but follow through with a win - at Indy or anywhere else so far in 2013.

He's hoping the speedy oval at Iowa Speedway will be the setting for this season's breakthrough.

Carpenter, now in his second season as the owner and driver of his own team, has notched top-10s in two of his last three oval races. He had a somewhat disappointing 14th-place finish last week in Milwaukee, but is confident he can continue his strong stretch on ovals Sunday in Iowa.

''It's a bit of a mixed bag. When it comes to ovals, we've been strong. Don't have all the results we've wanted,'' Carpenter said of his season so far. ''We have more results to give, and luckily we have a lot of races left to do that.''

Even though a pole has been by far the biggest highlight of Carpenter's season, there's reason to believe that he's on the brink of a podium finish. Carpenter led 37 laps at Indy and finished a respectable 10th. Since then, he's consistently finished much higher than he's qualified the No. 20 Chevrolet.

Carpenter has outperformed his spot on the grid four races running, including a fourth-place finish at Texas after starting ninth. Of course, that would mean a lot more if he could get the No. 20 inside the top 10 rows, but he hasn't done in three of the last four events.

Iowa will offer a different challenge. For the second straight year, the grid will be determined by three, 50-lap heat races run on Saturday after a single morning practice.

Though Carpenter thinks the heat races will be exciting for fans, he's not quite sure if it will help or hurt his own qualifying chances.

''The heat race format will help if we come off the track with a very good car,'' Carpenter said. ''If you're struggling in that first practice session and making changes, you only have one qualifying run to try something, which is very hard to do. I think it will be good for us.''

Carpenter has always run well at Iowa. He's finished in the top 10 three times, including a best of sixth at the inaugural race in 2007. Last year, he started 21st but, like he's done much of this season, rallied from a lap down and finished eighth.

It's hardly surprising that Carpenter would feel comfortable on Iowa's 0.875-mile short track.

The Indianapolis native is the only driver in the IndyCar field who has run midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crown cars on the tight dirt and pavement ovals - often known as ''bullrings'' - like the one found at Iowa.

''I like going fast, and I have a good feeling for the car in a lower downforce setting,'' Carpenter said. ''Whether we're going to a short track or a super speedway, I feel very confident either way.''

Carpenter has been running in the IndyCar series since 2003, but his first win didn't come until 2011 on the oval at Kentucky. He followed up with a victory at another oval, Fontana, last September in the first win for his team. A victory by Carpenter would make him the eighth different winning driver in 10 races this season and give him a major boost in the points chase, where he's currently 16th.

Carpenter knows he'll need a near-perfect run to do so. But at least he's at a track he is comfortable with.

''The quality of the teams and the drivers is so high that you really do have to be pretty much flawless to win races right now. You can have one little slipup and not even be in the top five,'' Carpenter said,

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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