The term road course ringer was made popular in the 2000s in NASCAR when a driver with a road racing background would hop in a car to fill in for a driver that may lack experience at the series two road course races. As the oval portion of the 2022 schedule gets underway at Texas next Sunday, Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand find themselves as the oval aces. The former teammates will both drive the ovals only this season, Hildebrand for A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter for his own team, this year driving a new number, 33.
The announcement came on Friday that Hildebrand would return to A.J. Foyt Racing to drive the #11 Rokit Chevy with rookie driver Tatiana Calderon continuing on the road courses. Her start to the season at St. Pete began with a 24th place finish after falling three laps down to mechanical issues. Hildebrand becomes the elder statesman with the team, tutoring Calderon and fellow rookie driver Kyle Kirkwood. He will run at Texas, Indy, Iowa and Gateway, having scored top 5 finishes at Texas, Indy and Iowa in his career. This will be the most races the California native has ran in a season since running full time for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2017. Hildebrand has 8 straight Top 20 finishes at the Indianapolis 500 and will be eager to return to Iowa where he scored a second place finish in 2017.
“I’m excited to be back with them (A.J. Foyt Racing) and doing more races, that’s exciting." Hildebrand said on conference call last week. "I really like the oval schedule that the series has right now, I’m really looking forward to the challenge.” “I’ve been preparing alongside all the full time guys, same program and trainer as Josef Newgarden. I turned the wick up in the offseason to be ready to go whenever it happens.”
As for Ed Carpenter, the owner driver moved to the side when funding for Conor Daly from BitNile came on board. Daly will run the #20 in all events in 2022 and 2023. Carpenter returns to the cockpit at Texas with a new number, 33. This will be the third Indy 500 that Carpenter hasn’t run the #20, a number he’s snagged three Indy 500 pole positions and two wins.
As difficult as it is to run ovals, these two drivers have a shot at Top 5 finishes this season. Carpenter is always strong at Indy and has a win at Texas and Top 5 finishes at Indy, Iowa and Gateway. Hildebrand could struggle to find speed at Indianapolis, as A.J. Foyt Racing cars have failed to qualify inside the top 15 in the last three years. Their best qualifying effort was with Tony Kanaan's 11th place in 2018. Hildebrand will be good on race day and can certainly charge to a Top 10 finish. Look for him to have pace and contend for a Top 5 at Gateway where the team has three straight Top 10 showings.
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