Last night I enjoyed listening on-line as one of my favorite IndyCar drivers, Ed Carpenter, won his third career race in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. I’m always partial to the smaller teams in IndyCar, especially owner/driver teams like Carpenter’s, and enjoy any chance I have to see them win out over their highly funded competition. They do everything they can to help their teams survive in a sport where it is often hard to make ends meet. Sometimes as team owners they make decisions that are hard to make as drivers.
After winning his first career race in 2011, Carpenter launched his own team in 2012. He has continued to experience a measure of success with 8 top ten finishes and 1 win on oval courses. His weakness as a road and street course racer has become more apparent in the last two years as IndyCar shifts to more of these type of races. For the first two years as a team Carpenter has an average finishing position of 8th on oval tracks and 19th on road / street courses (16th overall). So, for the sake of the team, Carpenter the owner needed to make a decision on how to improve their overall standing for the team to survive and how Carpenter the driver fit into this.
Along came Mike Conway, a relative newcomer to IndyCar who has shown an ability to win on road / street courses. After two serious crashes in his three starts at the Indy 500, Conway decided he was no longer comfortable with racing on ovals and became a fill-in road / street course specialist in 2013. As a race team owner, Ed Carpenter made the decision in 2014 to split his ride with Mike Conway behind the wheel in the 12 road / street course races and himself as driver in the 6 oval races. So far this year they have won two races and the car’s average finish has improved to 14th overall (12th if you factor out the Indy 500 where Carpenter had a good chance to win until bad decisions by two other drivers took him out of the race with 20 laps to go). Neither will have a chance of winning the IndyCar points championship, but their combined points is enough for the car to be in 6th place so far.
Sometimes leaders need to identify their weaknesses and find people that are able to compensate for these weaknesses for the bettering of the overall team. This is not only true in auto racing, but in all areas of life. Team will often outshine individual performance. Ed Carpenter Racing may become a great example of that this year.