Strong Start For Carpenter

What a difference a year has made for IndyCar Series driver Ed Carpenter.

The most improved driver from last season has picked up where he left off in 2006, despite continuing to fly under the series' publicity radar.

The Indianapolis native was involved in a warm-up accident on the morning of the 2006 season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and wound up missing the first two races of the season. When he finally raced, he was involved in an accident at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan.

After a horrible start, Carpenter settled down and ended 2006 on a roll. He placed 11th in the Indianapolis 500. From there, Carpenter finished in the top 10 in six of the final 10 events. He ended the year with a career-best fifth at Chicagoland Speedway.

Last Saturday night, Carpenter ran with the pack of drivers, chasing eventual winner Dan Wheldon. He finished fifth to pick up where he left off at the end of 2006, leading the three-car Vision Racing entry in the season opener.

"Last year was the best package I've had since I've been racing. I think that's why the results look better," Carpenter said prior to the 2007 opener. "Definitely, I improve all the time, but a lot of it is the team behind me. We've made a lot of gains at Vision Racing, we've got really nice race cars. It makes the driver's life a lot nicer when you're in a really nice race car."

While Vision Racing addition Anthony Foyt was taken out in an accident, Vision regular Tomas Scheckter finished eighth in the opener.

It didn't take long for the third car to help Vision Racing pick up the pace.

"We can have more data with more cars, but it's only a good thing if you do it right and have the right people," Carpenter said. "We're going to be doing it the right way. We didn't hurt ourselves when we went from one car to two cars, and I don't think we┬╣ll hurt ourselves going from two to three. It's going to be a fun year."

His car owner is pleased that his patience has paid off with the 26-year-old driver, who graduated from Butler University with a degree in marketing. But that's no surprise, as Tony George is Carpenter's stepfather.

"I'm impressed with Ed," George said. "He just needed more time, coming from a short track background. In my opinion, he has the talent to do well in Indy Cars."

George, who formed the Indy Racing League to give American short track drivers the opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500, has another reason to be rooting for Carpenter. However, Carpenter is the only driver in the IndyCar Series who made the climb up USAC's ladder of Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown cars before spending two years in the Indy Pro Series - winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The only other IndyCar Series regular with a traditional short track background is Sarah Fisher, who raced winged sprints on dirt tracks.

In recent years, a star-studded roster, including Ken Schrader, Dave Blaney, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, J.J. Yeley and Kasey Kahne, have gone from Silver Crown to NASCAR.

With Ed Carpenter, fans of American short track racing have a dog in the fight at Indianapolis. If he continues his steady improvement, he will be one of the drivers to watch during the month of May.

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