POCONO, Pa. – Ed Carpenter knew he was excited just driving through the track tunnel today.
No, the team owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet was not entering the prestigious Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s another famed U.S. oval track this time.
Carpenter, the winner of the recent 500-mile IZOD IndyCar Series race two weeks ago at Fontana, Calif., was driving into Pocono Raceway this morning for the media announcement of next year’s 400-mile race set for July 7, 2013.
Pocono Raceway, known as “The Tricky Triangle,” is the only oval added to the IndyCar Series schedule, but the 2.5-mile tri-oval is not new to great open-wheel racing. Nineteen IndyCar races have taken place at Pocono and Carpenter is anxious to be a part of the new edition next summer.
“I was thrilled to go through the tunnel at Pocono today,” said Carpenter, the only owner/driver in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series. “It felt a lot like driving through the tunnel at Indy. There is some magic about the track.”
Carpenter was joined at today’s Pocono announcement by racing legend and former Pocono winner Mario Andretti, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky to discuss the IndyCars return to the popular Pennsylvania racing facility.
“The track people handed me the keys to the Chevy Camaro Pace Car today to drive the oval for the first time,” Carpenter explained. “But I handed the keys to Mario to give me a ride and show me how to drive the track. Who else is better to drive around here than Mario? I’m going to ask him more questions about the track when we finish up today.”
Carpenter, with oval wins in the last two finale races in 2011 and 2012, knows it will be 24 years since the IndyCars raced at Pocono, but he believes the racing will as good as that last race in 1989 (won by Danny Sullivan).
“I can’t wait to have the IndyCars back here to Pocono,” he said. “Each corner is different here and that is a great challenge for a driver. I was able to get some feedback from Mario and some of his memories of racing here. I wanted to know some of the challenges he had in each corner. And which turn he enjoyed the most.
“Driving around the track in a Chevy Camaro is much different than in an IndyCar. There will be some great challenges at the track. Hopefully, we’ll have a three-day show to give us more time to learn the track. I think we’ll put on a great race here. It looks like a very fun track.”
Carpenter, whose background includes oval track racing in the USAC ranks, formed his own racing team this year with Ed Carpenter Racing based in Indianapolis and sponsored by Fuzzy’s Vodka, created by Indiana golf legend Fuzzy Zoeller.
“I know I would like to get on the track and test here with our Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy as soon as possible,” said Carpenter. “I’m sure every IndyCar Series team would like to do the same. It is a little cool temperature-wise here today but, if the temperature is good enough, we’ll plan to test here this year.”
With the announcement of the Pocono 400 in July, IndyCar also has announced the return of the coveted “Triple Crown” with the Indianapolis 500 in May and the MAVTV500 at Auto Club Speedway in October. If a driver can win all three, he or she will receive a $1 million bonus. Win two of the three races and the driver gets $250,000.
“I am super excited about the Triple Crown coming back,” said Carpenter. “I think it is a great challenge and a great story. I can’t wait to race at the three big ovals.”
After his Fontana victory, Carpenter must be listed as one of the favorites to capture the “Triple Crown,” a feat only performed once by Al Unser in 1978.