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Carpenter adjusting to new role out of the car

Jeff Gordon make a pit stop during a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Sunday, March 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Ed Carpenter had a fast car last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he won the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

What he didn't have were many drivers or teams willing to help him prepare for the biggest race of the year.

As a single-car team, Carpenter was essentially alone on an island, unable to get help on data and much-needed setup information. He didn't want a repeat this May, so he recently hired J.R. Hildebrand to drive a second car at Indy for Ed Carpenter Racing.

"Last year we had a situation where we had a fast car all month long, and as a single team, you try to go out and get with the four or five Andretti teams and they don't necessarily want to work with you," Carpenter said. "Yeah, we were all Chevrolet teams at the time, but we were all racing each other, too. Now knowing that J.R. and I will be able to coordinate and work together, it will be a huge benefit that we didn't have last year."

Hildebrand nearly won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2011, but he crashed exiting the final turn and was passed for the win by the late Dan Wheldon. So Carpenter gets a teammate who can lead laps at Indy and hopefully help ECR dial in its cars at a much faster rate.

It's one of the many big decisions made during the offseason by Carpenter, who as the only owner/driver in IndyCar had to make a very big decision about his own career.

Carpenter decided in November to run only on ovals, where he excels, and to turn his car over to Mike Conway on road and street courses. It meant he was out of the car for the first time since 2011 at Sunday's season-opening race at St. Pete.

Carpenter assisted Conway from the timing stand, wearing a headset.

"It's certainly different," Carpenter said. "There's times I want to be in the car, I am still competitive and want to race as much as I can, but I'm also really excited about having Mike on board with the team and the steps we are taking, moving forward with him. Sometimes, if there's any confusion or I'm not understanding what he's saying, it's like, 'Man, I wish I could just go throw my suit on and get a feel for what he's talking about.'

"I'm committed to the team and I still feel good about the decision to bring Mike in and I think it's going to pay dividends down the road because I care about the business of our team and Ed Carpenter Racing. We are trying to become stronger and more sustainable."

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RENEWED LICENSE: Ashley Force Hood renewed her NHRA Funny Car license this week while driving sister Courtney Force's Funny Car during a test session at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

She made four passes during the test, which Force Hood did to certify herself in case John Force Racing should ever need a backup driver. She has no immediate plans to return to full-time or part-time racing.

"The hardest part was when I was starting out my team was brand new, so we were all kind of messing up and learning together," she said after Monday's test. "Getting in this Funny Car, all these guys are established and have a routine with Courtney. I just wanted to do everything right and not mess them up or mess the car up."

A two-time U.S. Nationals Funny Car winner, Force Hood stepped out of her Funny Car in 2011 to have a baby with husband, Daniel, who works for the race team.

"It was weird to be in Courtney's seat and get tips from her," she said. "My husband, Dan, the last few weeks has been walking me through the routine. He was letting me know what was different. For the most part it is not that much different from when I drove."

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JEFF GORDON TREATMENT ROOM: The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation has redesigned the Jeff Gordon treatment room at the Children's Blood and Cancer Center in Austin, Texas.

CBCC is part of the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, which serves more than 40 counties. The Jeff Gordon treatment room features custom graphics created by Red Eye Designs of Charlotte, N.C., that depict Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet SS making a pit stop at last month's race in Las Vegas. The room was repainted in a complementary color matching the flame design on Gordon's car, and the cabinetry features graphics that replicate the tool boxes used by the Hendrick Motorsports team.

The funds to sponsor the room were raised by the Austin Chapter of the JGCF Promise Circle, which is comprised of volunteers who work in their communities with leading cancer treatment centers.

The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation has contributed more than $14 million to support children battling cancer and invests in research, provides access to treatment and offers patient support programs.

"These kids fighting cancer are some of the greatest champions I will ever know," said Gordon, a father of two. "We wanted to create a space that was fun and exciting, and a reminder that their visit to the hospital was just a pit stop on the way to victory over cancer."

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FAN VOTE: Fan voting for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 opened Wednesday on NASCAR.com.

The voting period runs through May 20, and the five nominees receiving the highest percentage of votes will comprise the Fan Vote ballot. This ballot will be included among the 54 submitted by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel to determine the Class of 2015. Voting Day for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 is May 21.

"The NASCAR Hall of Fame is the only hall of its kind where fans have had a voice in the induction process since its inception," said Brett Jewkes, NASCAR chief communications officer. "And the reason is simple: NASCAR fans are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the sport and its history, and have demonstrated that with their selections for the first five classes."

The 20 nominees were decided by the 22-person committee in February.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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