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Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher prevail

Ed Carpenter, left, edged Dario Franchitti by .0098 of a second Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

SPARTA, Ky. -- Let's forget for a moment about the IndyCar Series championship battle between Dario Franchitti and Will Power and series titans Penske Racing and Ganassi Racing.

Instead, let's celebrate a rare and wonderful thing in 21st century
motorsports: victory for a popular underdog driver and team.

Ed Carpenter won the Indy 300 Sunday at Kentucky Speedway for Sarah Fisher Racing, besting three-time IndyCar Series champion Franchitti by 0.0098 of second after a thrilling battle over the final 20 laps.

The win was the first for Carpenter, the 30-year-old stepson of IndyCar Series founder Tony George. It was also the first for Fisher, the semi-retired racer who formed her own team on a shoestring four years ago and has tasted more agony than joy in that span.

Few will forget the tears that Fisher wept during ABC's broadcast of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 after she wrecked her only race car and took out Tony Kanaan in one fell swoop. Fisher cried again Sunday, but this time they were tears of joy.

It's been a whirlwind last month for the 30-year-old Ohioan, who on Sept. 13 gave birth to daughter Zoey.

Reluctantly granting herself maternity leave, Fisher left SFR in the capable hands of her husband, Andy O'Gara, who serves as team manager of the close-knit family operation.

"I'm just the face of the team at this point," laughed Fisher. "I haven't been to the shop in three or four weeks. The boys have done a tremendous job; Andy did it on his own while I was off messing around.

"People are already asking me if it's just as special to win as a team owner as a driver," she added. "Absolutely! I could not be happier or more proud of the group we assembled to accomplish this today."

The win was also vindication for Carpenter, who finished second at Kentucky Speedway the previous two years and clearly has the hang of the 1.5-mile oval south of Cincinnati.

Carpenter qualified fourth this year at Kentucky to earn SFR's best-ever starting berth, yet he went off with 50-1 odds.

He dropped back in the first half of the race, not happy with the handling of his Dollar General-sponsored car. But he methodically worked his way to the front and ran second for the final restart on Lap 178.

Franchitti held on to the lead for 10 laps, but Carpenter was able to remain side by side on the outside and took the lead for the first time on Lap 188. They swapped the lead four more times, but Carpenter saved one more "push to pass" than Franchitti and his yellow car nosed ahead at the line.

Winning just feels good for myself, the team, my family, and I don't care what everyone else thinks at this point. I've been trying to get here 113 times and I'm going to celebrate.

-- Ed Carpenter

"A lot of things happened throughout the day that made me think it wasn't going to be the day," Carpenter said. "The first half of the race didn't feel like it. But we did everything we had to do to work through it. It was meant to be today.

"Winning just feels good for myself, the team, my family, and I don't care what everyone else thinks at this point," he added. "I've been trying to get here 113 times and I'm going to celebrate."

Although finishing second cost him 10 points in terms of the championship, Franchitti was pleased to ring in Carpenter and Fisher as the IndyCar Series' latest winners.

"Ed drove a great race, and I was happy to see him and Sarah win,"
Franchitti said. "It's a great story, and it shows that in the IndyCar Series, if you get all the details right, anybody can run at the front and win races."

"He drove a hell of a race and he totally deserved it," added Scott Dixon, who finished third Sunday at Kentucky to clinch IndyCar's A.J.
Foyt Oval Racing Trophy.

Carpenter's victory was a huge boost for Fisher and her team. They recently learned that Dollar General will not return for the 2012 season.

"Dollar General didn't include us in their racing program for next year, so maybe this will change that -- I don't know," Fisher said. "I know that we'll be trying to put an oval program with Ed in the seat to do it all over again.

"We've come a long way for being in existence just four years and starting out with some issues with sponsorship. Dollar General really believed in us as a team and they stayed with us the whole way, so to have them on board for first win is wonderful."

Just to clean up that championship storyline, Franchitti will take an 18-point lead into the season finale in two weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after incoming points leader Will Power got wrecked in the pits at Kentucky and finished 19th.

Power led the first 48 laps from pole position, but his Verizon Team Penske car was struck in the pits when Dreyer & Reinbold Racing waved Ana Beatriz out of her pit stall. The timing of Beatriz' pit exit was off because she had trouble selecting first gear.

"I just can't believe it," Power said. "That's the fastest car I've ever had on an oval and there is no way we weren't going to win that race.

"But congratulations to Ed and Sarah. Ed's just gotten beat here the last two years, so for sure he deserves to win one."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.