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Carpenter, Clauson qualify the hard way

INDIANAPOLIS – The two IZOD IndyCar Series drivers who came up the old school way took some hard knocks this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Ed Carpenter and Bryan Clauson, the only two drivers in the Indianapolis 500 field with extensive USAC circle track experience, both crashed on Saturday and were forced into making second day qualifying runs on Sunday.

Clauson made a conservative run in his rebuilt Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing DW12/Honda, while Carpenter gassed his back-up Fuzzy’s Vodka-sponsored DW12/Chevrolet to a 222-mph average, fourth fastest among second day qualifiers. He’ll line up 28th.

As the IndyCar Series only owner/driver, Carpenter was doubly upset Saturday night.

“The whole month hasn’t gone as you script them,” said Carpenter with his typical understated humor. “It’s been an ugly month, but the team have stuck together and stuck behind me and they built a pretty good T-car for me.”

Carpenter’s wreck occurred at 3:28 Saturday afternoon and was the culmination of a frustrating qualifying day where he and the Ed Carpenter Racing crew struggled to replicate the speed many of the other Chevrolet-powered cars displayed.

“I was really, really mad for probably three hours,” he admitted. “I was mad that the car got destroyed, mad that the setup wasn’t better, and mad that I was stubborn and insisted on keeping my foot in it when I knew it wasn’t any good.

“Then the anger starts to go away and you just have to figure out what you have to do for the next day.”

Under the leadership of veteran team manager Derrick Walker, construction on Carpenter’s back-up car started about a half hour after the accident. The Chevrolet engine was installed in the chassis at 11:17 p.m., and at 12:30, the crew headed home for a few hours of sleep, returning to the Speedway at 6:00.

By 8:20 Sunday morning, the car was on the setup pad. Although he missed the morning practice session, Carpenter got on track in the afternoon and posted a 222.324 run at 2:04 p.m.

“The effort the team gave me all week has been outstanding,” said the owner/driver. “You never know when Indianapolis decides it’s your turn for a bad month, but things change quickly around here.”

Clauson gained the unfortunate distinction of becoming the first driver to crash a Dallara DW12 at high speed on an oval. The 22-year old Californian spun his Angie’s List-sponsored entry Saturday on his fourth and final qualifying lap just after noon.

The SFHR car was not as extensively damaged as Carpenter’s, so team manager Andy O’Gara made the decision to rebuild the car around the original tub.

“We were fortunate that Dallara is here [in Speedway], very close to the shop and the track,” O’Gara commented. “We got the parts we needed from Dallara and Honda and went to work. We went from the middle of the afternoon to the middle of the night, probably 3 to 4 a.m.”

Clauson’s qualifying speed of 214.455 mph placed him 31st on the grid and barely beat the down-on-horsepower Lotus powered entries. But with only 33 entries in this year’s race, there was no danger of being bumped.

“Obviously when you have a run like we did yesterday at 223 and a half or so and come back today and go run that, you’re not excited,” said Clauson, who will make his first career IndyCar Series start in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

“I was bummed, I guess, but it was neat to see all the hard work that went into getting the thing back out there,” he added. “There was nothing to be gained by trimming it out and trying to run 25th instead of 31st. I guess it will get us a little bit of a head start on the Hard Charger Award, starting a little further back. Us short track guys like that.”

Clauson is the product of a dedicated effort by INDYCAR CEO to attract USAC sprint car and midget stars into racing Indy cars. For many years, USAC racing was a direct path to Indy cars, but over the last 30 years, the vast majority of USAC stars have migrated to NASCAR racing.

Clauson believes that even though they race front-engine, tube-frame cars exclusively on oval tracks, USAC drivers can still make the transition to modern, rear-engine Indy cars.

“There’s a lot of people watching and a lot of people are cheering for us and rooting for us to be successful because of the background I have,” he said. “It’s been awhile since a guy has made the jump successfully and the fans felt they had somebody to cheer for in the Indianapolis 500.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of sprint car shirts in the stands and a lot of people cheering for us,” he continued. “The support we’ve gotten has really been pretty humbling.”

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Carpenter, Clauson qualify the hard way
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