2014 Indy 500: Ed Carpenter seeks win in front of hometown fans

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

An Indy 500 victory would carry extra significance for pole-sitter Ed Carpenter, whose connection with the race runs deep.

INDIANAPOLIS -- A relaxed Ed Carpenter was sitting in an office adjacent to the garage for the team he owns Saturday morning when his phone rings. His ringtone: "Eye of the Tiger," the iconic song from "Rocky III."

With a smile, the pole-sitter for Sunday's Indianapolis 500 explained his affinity for the Rocky series. It's fitting, because though he's not quite the underdog he once was -- that illusion tends to fade after you win the pole in consecutive years for the biggest open-wheel in America -- some similarities between Carpenter and Rocky Balboa do exist.

"I grew up around this race. I loved the Indianapolis 500. It's a privilege and an honor just to be starting my 11th 500; it's pretty cool."-Ed Carpenter

In a sport often dominated by three juggernaut organizations (Team Penske, Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing), Ed Carpenter Racing is a bit of an outlier.

The team runs just one car full-time (J.R. Hildebrand will drive a second one-off entry Sunday), and Carpenter doesn't even run all the Verizon IndyCar Series races. He splits the schedule with Mike Conway, who takes the road and street courses while Carpenter focuses on the ovals, his strong suit.

It's proven to be a successful formula, with Conway winning in April at Long Beach and Carpenter speeding to the Indy 500 pole last weekend.

"My goal is to be a longstanding team in this sport and hopefully be looked at as one of the big teams someday," Carpenter said in an interview Saturday with SB Nation. "We've got a great group of people here and we've established a great culture. Hopefully we can sustain ourselves as a team and continue to grow at the same time."

That Carpenter has found success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway should come as no surprise considering his familiarity.

The stepson of series founder Tony George, whose family owns IMS, Carpenter grew up about 20 minutes from the speedway. As a kid, he worked as cart-boy for the golf course across the street, and then later in the restoration shop of the IMS museum. He is also a graduate of Butler University located in Indianapolis.

There is little doubt that Carpenter is a Hoosier through and through.

This is why, when coming up through the USAC ranks, Carpenter elected not to follow the path so many USAC drivers take to the world of NASCAR. (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson are among those who went from USAC to NASCAR.)

Carpenter instead wanted to compete in the race he dreamt about running as a kid.

"I grew up around this race," Carpenter said. "I loved the Indianapolis 500 and for that reason I never looked going in that [NASCAR] direction. It's a privilege and an honor just to be starting my 11th 500; it's pretty cool."

Now Carpenter is focused on winning, a feat he nearly accomplished in 2013, leading a race-high 41 laps before backsliding to 10th.

The frustration in not winning last season is something Carpenter hasn't forgotten. It's why he refuses to get too excited about becoming just the 11th driver to win consecutive Indy 500 poles.

"It was more exciting last year because I wasn't sure I had a pole car," Carpenter said. "It felt like a bigger deal. This year we felt we had a chance going into (qualifying) so it wasn't much of a surprise. And at the same time, having gone through and winning the pole and not having the best race and finishing 10th, I didn't really want to get too excited about it because we still have work to do this month."

The local boy wants nothing more than to win in front of his hometown fans.

"I'm trying," Carpenter said. "Hopefully we can make good on Sunday."

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