Carpenter snares first IndyCar win
It's that time of the season when the focus is on Dixon, Franchitti and Power - the guys running for the IndyCar championship.
It means the also-rans get overlooked, even when they've proven they can be a player.
Ed Carpenter did just that Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.
Carpenter scored his first career IndyCar victory by beating Dario Franchitti in a wheel-to-wheel battle to the checkered flag in the closest finish in track history. Even though he had finished second here the previous two years, there was no buzz about Carpenter before the race began.
''I've always known that I've belonged, but until you win one, there are always going to be people who think different,'' shrugged Carpenter, who gave Sarah Fisher Racing its first victory.
All was not lost for Franchitti, who reclaimed the series points lead after Will Power's terrible day.
Power started from the pole and led the first 48 laps, but a collision on pit road with Ana Beatriz during the first round of stops caused considerable damage to his Penske Racing entry. Unable to fix it enough to be competitive, Power finished 19th.
He started the day with a 12-point lead over Franchitti, but Franchitti now goes to the Oct. 16 finale at Las Vegas up 18 points.
''It can change in a second, so we'll just go (to Vegas) with an open mind and see what comes of it,'' Franchitti said.
Power was clearly disappointed.
''We had the quickest car, an unbelievably fast car,'' Power said, but said the pit-road accident made it ''a fight to just hang on to the back of the field.''
Franchitti, the two-time defending series champion, said he was never told on the team radio that Power had trouble and only realized it when he closed in on his rival to put him a lap down.
''It changed my mood in the car,'' laughed Franchitti, who said he's not getting too far ahead of himself heading into the final race.
''Just shows how quickly things change. You never give up until it's mathematically possible, you haven't lost it and you haven't won it. We're going to go to Vegas and try to win the big one, but we learned today how quickly things can change.''
Power started from the pole and had a comfortable cushion as Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Franchitti and Scott Dixon struggled in qualifying and had to work their way through the field. But Power had the contact with Beatriz, Franchitti and Dixon cycled to the top of the leaderboard, and Power found himself stuck at the back of the field.
Power said he wasn't surprised the Ganassi drivers, Franchitti in particular, finished strong.
''I wasn't surprised he ended up leading,'' Power said. ''I don't think he was as quick as we were. I was expecting those guys to end up at the front, no question, but I wasn't expecting us to have the day we had, losing so many points. It's racing. You can't do anything about it now.''
Dixon finished third and conceded his title chances.
''I'm out of it now, and obviously we'll try to push and help Dario at Vegas,'' Dixon said.
Carpenter, meanwhile, was patient over the final 22 laps, knowing he had enough to beat Franchitti. His lone hiccup was a broken visor on his helmet that caused him to drive one-handed for a stint until he could fix it during a caution.
''Dario raced me hard and clean,'' Carpenter said. ''I knew we had a better car than him the second or third stint. My visor was falling off - I drove 15 or 20 laps one-handed holding it onto my helmet waiting for a pit stop. I wasn't going to let a visor get in my way. Just so proud to be a part of this team.''
Carpenter met a tearful Fisher in Victory Lane. The new mother was celebrating with the daughter she gave birth to three weeks ago, and joked the newborn was such good luck she can never miss another race again.
Carpenter and SFR run a partial schedule, with all their emphasis on the oval tracks. But with Fisher busy with her new role as a mother, she'd been out of the loop of late on what was going on at the race shop.
''The boys have just done a tremendous job,'' Fisher said. ''The big ovals were 100 percent of our focus this year. I still can't believe it, it's just unreal.''
Asked which is better, winning as a driver or a car owner, Fisher said it's equal.
''Is it just as special? It absolutely is,'' she said. ''I can not be more happy of the group we've assembled.''
Fisher said the team learned a few weeks ago that sponsor Dollar General will not return next year, and hoped the victory could either change the company's mind or attract other funding.
''We're trying to figure it out,'' Fisher said.
The margin of victory of .0098 seconds was the sixth closest in IndyCar history, and Carpenter had no explanation for why Kentucky has been so good for him.
''I think all drivers have racetracks that they just really enjoy,'' Carpenter said. ''This place has changed every year. I've been on the podium the last three years with three different teams and three different setups. I'm just comfortable here. I don't know what it is, I like coming here.''
James Hinchcliffe finished fourth and was followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Oriol Servia and Wade Cunningham. Ryan Briscoe, Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick rounded out the top 10.