VeeKay, who leads the rookie standings, climbed from 14th to sixth in Saturday’s Race 1, at a track in which he had won in Pro Mazda (now known as Indy Pro 2000) in 2018 on his way to the title, and finished second in Indy Lights last year on his way to runner-up in the championship.
Afterward he was confident enough to declare, “We were on our way to the podium, I think, but a yellow kind of screwed me. I kept my chin up and had a great car to make passes with.
“The No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet was great in the second lane when there were no marbles. It did get a little sketchy on the last run; I almost lost it a few times.”
But it was in Sunday’s race where he truly excelled, despite starting 18th, and he passed six cars on the opening two green-flag laps. Again, his ECR strategist Brent Harvey and race engineer Matt Barnes chose to pull him in early – working backward from when each pit window opened – and the tactics paid off.
After the first round of stops, VeeKay ran behind only Pato O’Ward and Will Power and ahead of Josef Newgarden, while Newgarden crew got the reigning champion out ahead of VeeKay for the third stint.
The late-stopping Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport car of Colton Herta also led him in the final stint, but VeeKay charged after him and on Lap 164 of the 200-lap race, he passed him around the outside at Turn 1 to claim fourth. Slight contact was made, and Herta was annoyed as his lost momentum also allowed Scott Dixon past, but Race Control saw no reason to penalize the flying Dutchman.
When the lapped Marco Andretti chopped in front of Power, there was a chance that VeeKay might feasibly have wrested third place away from the 2014 champion, but Takuma Sato’s smack against the wall on Lap 197 meant the race ended under caution.
“It was a great race, one of the best races I have ever driven!” said VeeKay. “Yesterday, I started 14th and finished 6th so today, starting 18th, I was aiming for a Top 10 finish. I had an amazing first lap, got around a lot of guys. The strategy was brilliant, so shout out to my team for making this possible!
“Those last few laps were very tough, everyone was all over the place. Just missed out on the podium but that's okay, P4 was the best I could do!”
Team boss Ed Carpenter, who is also VeeKay’s teammate on oval tracks, suffered a desultory weekend, having been heavily damaged in the Race 1 startline collision, and feeling his car was still suffering the after-effects of the shunt in Race 2. With no more oval races on the 2020 schedule, this was Carpenter’s final entry as a driver until 2021.
“This was a really disappointing end to a very tough year,” said the three-time Indy 500 pole-winner whose most recent podium finish came here at World Wide Technology Raceway last year. “It was really only a couple of months since our first race was in June!
“It started off well there, but it has been a lot of bad luck since then. Today was just another tough day. The car wasn’t the same after we were hit at the start yesterday.
“There are still a few races left in 2020, so we'll focus on Rinus and Conor [Daly, his roadcourse sub in car #20] and finish out the season strong as a team.”