INDIANAPOLIS — Local driver Ed Carpenter has made himself at home on the Indianapolis 500 pole.
The last of nine qualifiers to take the track, Carpenter bumped James Hinchcliffe from the top spot, posting a four-lap average of 231.067 mph to win the 500 pole for the second straight year.
“I felt that it was harder,” Carpenter said. “It was just a different position because when I made my run last year, we didn’t really have anything to lose. This year, being the last guy to go out, I think there was a little bit of pressure to not mess it up.”
He didn’t mess it up, not at all.
Carpenter’s No. 20 Chevrolet was the car to beat all weekend, and the hometown favorite showed no signs of rust in his first IndyCar Series race of the season. He owns Ed Carpenter Racing and decided in November to run only on ovals, where he excels. He turned his car over to Mike Conway on road and street courses, and skipped the first four races of the season.
He knew he had the pole secured when he nailed the final two corners on the last lap.
“I could really just kind of enjoy it knowing that we were going to be on the pole for the second year,” he said.
Hinchcliffe will start second after sustaining a concussion last weekend in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Will Power will join them on the front row.
Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves was fourth followed by Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti. Carlos Munoz, Josef Newgarden and J.R. Hildebrand will be on the third row.
Carpenter, the stepson of former speedway executive Tony George, was 10th in last year’s Indy 500. He is 11th driver to earn consecutive 500 poles and the first since Castroneves in 2009-10.
“It’s all about the race,” the 33-year-old Carpenter said. “Hopefully, we can close the deal this year.”
As a single-car team last year, Carpenter was unable to get help on data and much-needed setup information. He didn’t want a repeat this May, so he hired Hildebrand to drive a second car at Indy for Ed Carpenter Racing. Hildebrand nearly won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2011, but he crashed exiting the final turn and was passed for the win by the late Dan Wheldon.
“I wish we could have got him up on the front row with us, but the shootout’s tough,” Carpenter said. “The conditions were hard today, but having him go first today also helped me because we were able to make an adjustment.”
Carpenter thrived in the first year of a new Indy 500 qualifying format. He posted the top qualifying speed Saturday when the fastest nine drivers advanced to Sunday’s shootout for the pole.
Juan Pablo Montoya had the fastest four-lap average (231.007 mph) among drivers ineligible to win the Indianapolis 500 pole and will start 10th.
“We have a pretty quick car,” Montoya, the 2000 winner, said. “Hopefully, my guys can learn something for the Fast Nine. I think that will put us in a good spot to start the race.”
Montoya was followed by reigning series champion Scott Dixon and former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch.
Busch is set to race 1,100 miles in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25. Busch raced in NASCAR’s All-Star race the night before and flew back from Concord, North Carolina, on Sunday morning.
Busch was humbled when he said he’d never be able to duplicate a weekend like this one — “except for maybe next week.”
Defending 500 champion Tony Kanaan will start 16th.
Hinchcliffe appeared to have no problems in the car days after he was cleared to return for his concussion. He paced as he watched Carpenter make his final run, then his chance at the pole end when Carpenter found more speed on his final lap.
He was injured last weekend in Saturday’s Grand Prix when debris from Justin Wilson’s car flew into the cockpit, striking Hinchcliffe in the head. He was taken away from the track on a stretcher, transported to a hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
The 27-year old Canadian was cleared to drive Thursday, and took the wheel back from pinch-driver E.J. Viso.
“I had to kind of pretend that I had been here all month and take the feedback my teammates had given me at face value,” Hinchcliffe said. “I knew what to expect from the car and that was a huge part of it.”
For the first time, IndyCar awarded points based on qualifying runs. The top qualifier on Saturday earned 33 points, second place got 32 and so on, all the way to one point for the 33rd-place entrant.
The pole winner earned another nine points Sunday, decreasing to one point for the ninth-place starter.
Carpenter, a Butler University alum, is an avid Indiana Pacers fan and couldn’t wait to watch them play the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
“Racers and Pacers right now,” he said. “So go Pacers, beat the Heat.”