INDIANAPOLIS — Ed Carpenter spends the entire year thinking about the Indianapolis 500, even though he runs a full-time IndyCar effort with other drivers in the seat the rest of the year.
The race is quite literally in his blood: He is the stepson of Tony George, whose family has owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades and who founded the Indy Racing League in the 1990s.
That explains why Carpenter had such a hard time processing things Sunday.
On the one hand, he was overjoyed about leading a career-best 65 laps and dominating long stretches of the race at his beloved speedway, which stands within sight of the home where he grew up. On the other, he was devastated that he couldn't track down Will Power in the closing laps, leaving him with a second-place finish at the one place he wants to win most.
"I'll feel pretty good about this in a couple days," Carpenter said with a shrug. "Hopefully this will kind of be a springboard for the team to have some strong finishes."
What looked at one point like it would be a banner day for his three-car Ed Carpenter Racing stable instead turned out to be a downer. Yes, he finished second after starting on the pole for the third time in his career, but teammate Spencer Pigot was shuffled back to 20th after running near the front.
Then there was Danica Patrick, who was in one of Carpenter's cars for the final race of her career.
She was fast in qualifying and started on the inside of Row 3, and was still hovering around the top 10 through the early part of the race. But Patrick lost control in Turn 2 on Lap 68, slammed into the wall and saw her career come to a stop while the rest of the field kept going.
Power and Carpenter were at the front of the pack.
The two were sporting Chevrolet power, the dominant engine much of the month, and it showed as they consistently roared to the front of the field. The only real blip for Carpenter came during an early stop, when he was penalized with a fine — but no drive-through penalty — for some unattended equipment.
Carpenter continued to push to the front, regaining the lead a short time later. He stayed there as some of the biggest names in the sport crashed — Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais — and as fuel economy sent some of the leaders to the pits in the closing laps.
"Track position was everything that we thought it would be coming into the day," he said. "We saved fuel through the middle of the race when everyone was trying to cut out a stop. That was a little odd."
Carpenter went to the lead once more on Lap 171, just before he made his final stop, and was eyeing Power after the restart following the final caution of the race.
"I thought we were both pretty good," Carpenter said. "We were consistently passing cars. I think if the roles were reversed, he probably wouldn't have been able to get by me outside a restart. It was just really hard to pass a strong competitor without lapped traffic as a pick or something else, a mistake.
"Track position was unusually important," he said. "He seemed to get a little better than us. We were stronger earlier in the day. We picked up a little understeer and couldn't make enough adjustments."
Carpenter is on oval ace who steps out of his ride on road courses, so he'll turn things back over to Jordan King next weekend in Detroit. But he promised that he will back next season, chasing the one race that means more to Carpenter than anything else.
"When I look back on this month I'll feel really good about it," he said. "We were very strong almost every day with all our cars and held that level of performance and consistency throughout the month.
"Hopefully this will be a springboard to jump into this back half of the season."