The 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season got underway tonight after a nearly three-month delay. It was worth the wait for Ed Carpenter, who kicked off his 18th season of competition with a Top 5 result. Ed Carpenter Racing’s owner finished the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in the 5th position. Rookie Rinus VeeKay was finally able to make his long-awaited debut, but would have to settle for a 22nd place finish following an incident early in the race.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Genesys 300 race weekend was condensed to a one-day event. A two-and-a-half-hour practice session began the day with a 30-minute rookie session kicking things off. After only a handful of laps, VeeKay shot to the top of the timing sheet. On his 11th practice lap, he went below the white line and the car spun, making heavy left-side contact with the Turn 4 wall. Repairs to VeeKay’s No. 21 SONAX/Autogeek Chevrolet continued through qualifying and he was not able to make an attempt. He would automatically start the 200-lap from the back of the field in the 24th and final position.
Carpenter immediately got to work when the session opened for all cars as it was his first time on track at-speed in 2020. After a half hour of practice, Carpenter spun down the front straight but kept the No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet off the wall. Damage was limited to flattening the tires and the car was returned to the pit box. After a quick inspection, Carpenter hopped back in and went on to set his fastest lap of practice on his last lap. During qualifying, the 39-year-old’s two-lap average of 212.714 netted him the 13th starting position.
VeeKay’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut was off to a fast start as he found himself up seven positions to 17th by the end of the first lap. On Lap 11, he was able to gain another position as he worked his way around Pato O’Ward. VeeKay’s first-ever pit stop came on Lap 34 and he was down and away cleanly. However, the 19-year-old’s first race would come to an early end as he got high coming out of Turn 2 and spun, making contact with Alex Palou before both came to a stop on the backstretch.
Carpenter started the race from 13th, but immediately moved up three positions. He gained another spot after his first pit stop on Lap 35 and remained 9th for the entirety of his second stint. Under caution on Lap 80, Carpenter made his second stop. The No. 20 crew gained him two positions, moving him up to 7th. His Lap 121 stop saw him slip back one position to 8th, but the following stop on Lap 156 shot him back up to 5th. Carpenter would stay in 5th until a late-race caution shuffled him to 4th. After the final restart, Carpenter made a run on pole sitter Josef Newgarden with two to go in an attempt to claim a podium finish. The No. 20 got loose and Carpenter would slip back one position and take the checkered flag in 5th.
Saturday night’s race was Carpenter’s 19th at Texas Motor Speedway and his first Top 5 finish at the 1.5-mile oval since his 2014 victory. It is his second Top 5 finish in a row as he concluded his 2019 season with a second place at WWT Raceway outside of St. Louis. Since 2014, the owner/driver has focused his driving exclusively on the oval events. VeeKay reached the NTT INDYCAR SERIES by ascending the Road to Indy, but Texas Motor Speedway is a track the ladder series does not compete on. The Genesys 300 was VeeKay’s first race at Texas.
The next event on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar is the GMR Grand Prix, contested at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 4, 2020. Like the Genesys 300, the GMR Grand Prix will be held as a non-spectator event out of an abundance of caution. VeeKay will be joined by Conor Daly, road and street course driver of the No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet. Carpenter’s next event will be the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway on June 17-18, 2020.
ED CARPENTER, No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet, Finished 5th: “I was being pretty aggressive! I had a good shot at getting Josef (Newgarden) out of Turn 2, but got way loose. I’d rather go for a podium. The ECR team did a great job all night and Chevy did a great job. It was obviously a track position race. If we got to the front, we could have challenged. We were at the back of the line but kept getting people for position, picking people off. Good to be back racing; Firestone did a good job under tough circumstances. When you can’t make tires because of COVID-19, this is what we get. We’ll have better racing to come!”
RINUS VEEKAY, No. 21 SONAX/Autogeek Chevrolet, Finished 22nd: “I got a little too high around Santino (Ferrucci), lost the rear in the marbles and made contact with Alex (Palou). It’s very, very unfortunate. I expected my debut to be a lot different. I’m so sorry to the team. We’ll get better from here. I had very limited time, a lot of learning but unfortunately I crashed twice. I will have to sleep and think about it for a month. But our Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy was good.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!