Ed Carpenter wins NASCAR Firestone 600

Not this time, Ed Carpenter said. He was not going to let another Verizon IndyCar race get away from him because of someone else’s problems.
After winning a lengthy duel with Will Power, Carpenter survived the final test, a re-start with two laps remaining to win the Firestone 600 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.  It was his first victory since the season finale in 2012.Ed Carpernter behind Will Power“It was a handful the last couple laps,’’ Carpenter said. “But when you’re in that position, I’ve got to make sure I bring it home.’’

Carpenter and Power, of powerful Team Penske, made for a two-man race. They combined to lead 235 of the 248 laps.

Carpenter’s third career victory served as a small payback for his fate in the Indianapolis 500. He led with 37 laps remaining and was a strong contender with 25 laps to go when taken out in a wreck triggered by James Hinchcliffe.

This was Carpenter’s first start since Indianapolis.

“It’s good to bounce back,’’ Carpenter said. “Nothing totally makes up for missed opportunity at the speedway. At the same time, it always feels good to win, especially at a place like this.’’

Carpenter took advantage of a dreadful mistake by Power to take control.

Both elected to make what would have been their final pit stop on lap 212. Carpenter and his team were flawless. Power came in too fast and received a drive-through penalty. He leads the series with four drive-through penalties, all in the last five races.

“I screwed up again,’’ Power said. “I’ve got to stop doing that.’’

Bad Karma showed again

No one else could come close to Carpenter. He held an 18.5-second lead with seven laps remaining when bad karma showed itself again. An engine failure on Takuma Sato’s car caused a caution.

Carpenter’s team had a difficult decision.  Stay out and hope there were enough left on the tires to handle a re-start, or give up track position by coming in to take new tires.

Carpenter said he was nervous because “I wasn’t sure what the right decision was.’’ His team elected to stay with the old tires.

Power went the other way, pitting for new tires and was closing on Carpenter at the finish. Had there been a fourth lap, Power may have passed Carpenter.

“Hard to say,’’ said Power, who finished second and saved valuable points for the overall championship. “Ed was awful strong. He’s an awesome driver. It would have been a good battle to the end.’’

Montoya not happy

Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished third, complained that Carpenter jumped the re-start and should have been penalized.

“I was disappointed he got away with that,’’ Montoya said.

Carpenter fired back, saying Montoya tired to disrupt him on the re-start by lagging.

“I figured he’d be miffed,’’ Carpenter said. “I was sick of him. You’re not supposed to lag back. If he wants to talk to me about it, I’ll be happy to.’’

The Carpenter-Power duel was the only moment of interest during the race. For the second consecutive year, IndyCar could not find a setup that allowed for significant side-by-side racing and passes. The field was strung out most of the way.

For the majority of the race, Power was in charge. He led the first 55 laps and avoided the tire deterioration that caused a significant drop in speed for most drivers.

His ride had one flaw. It slowed when caught in traffic. That enabled Carpenter to reel him in on lap 182.

“I felt like he was struggling a little bit in dirty air,’’ said Carpenter, referring to the condition that arises when cars are bunched together. “His car might have been a little quicker than ours, but I don’t think it was as good as ours all around.’’

The better car won this time.