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May 12, 2012  |   By Dave Lewandowski

Owner/Driver Carpenter Focuses On Track Activity

Nearly two decades have passed since Ed Carpenter watched Indianapolis 500 time trials for the first time. Actually, he acknowledges being more focused on playing in the Turn 2 suites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his brother and cousin than the track activity.

“I started getting more into what was going on in the mid- to late-‘90s when I was getting more serious about racing and meeting the guys, knowing some of the drivers,” says Carpenter, an Indianapolis native who turned 31 on March 3.

On May 12 – Opening Day of practice for the 96th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – reflections of hours spent with family, friends and giants of the sport at the Speedway struck Carpenter as he entered the 103-year-old venue for the first time as the lone IZOD IndyCar Series team owner/driver.

“I think it hits you even when it’s not May, but it’s a little more special in May because you’re preparing for the race,” says Carpenter, who’s driving the Chevrolet-powered No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car. “That’s why I race IndyCars – for this race. There’s so much emphasis put on it, it’s an honor every time you go on track.”

Carpenter was among 26 drivers to record 693 incident-free laps in the six-hour session. Drivers will get 36 more hours of track time, weather permitting (and the forecast is favorable), through “Fast Friday” before Pole Day qualifications May 19 in testing the new engine/aero kit package. Gates open at 10 a.m. May 13 for the Mother’s Day special of noon-6 p.m. practice.

Rookie Josef Newgarden posted the quickest lap on the 2.5-mile oval of 220.250 mph in the No. 67 Dollar General car for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. JR Hildebrand, the 2011 race runner-up and Chase Rookie of the Year, was second quick (219.693 mph). Two other rookies, Bryan Clauson (219.632) and James Jakes (2198.286), followed. Tony Kanaan (217.741) completed the top five.

“Today is very encouraging, but it’s still a very long month and we still have a lot of room to grow and room to learn,” said team owner Sarah Fisher, who spotted for Clauson throughout much of the day. “Having two rookies and it being their first experience, we need to make sure we have an even month so that when we arrive on both Pole Day and Race Day we’re as prepared as today.”

Carpenter, who drove for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in 2011, recorded 39 laps with a best of 213.962 mph. Seeking to make his ninth Indianapolis 500 start, Carpenter qualified eighth the past two years. He has a best finish of fifth in 2008 and won the inaugural Freedom 100 Firestone Lights race in 2003.

"You always think of winning the Indy 500 and what it would be like to do it," said Carpenter, winner of the last IZOD IndyCar Series oval race (at Kentucky Speedway in October). "If we qualify well, I think I can then visualize what it is going to take to win the race. I have been in good situations before at Indy. I feel like I have been in position to win the race before and I think that is the case this year, too.”

Carpenter doesn’t foresee the management side of the operation to distract his focus on race preparation.

“I have a good group that allows me to focus on what I do. When we’re at the track, they do a great job of taking the burden off me and letting me focus on my job. That’s what it will take for us to be in position to win Indy.

“I’ll be disappointed if we’re not in the (90-minute) shootout (to set the first three rows) again. With all the new stuff, I feel there’s an opportunity to do well and we’ll be able to put ourselves on the front row.”