He was the last of the nine fastest qualifiers to hit the track Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He knocked off James Hinchcliffe on the last lap to start first in the May 25 race.
Hinchcliffe starts second a week after his concussion in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Will Power joins them on the front row.
Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves is fourth followed by Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti. Carlos Munoz, Josef Newgarden and JR Hildebrand are on the third row.
Carpenter, an Indianapolis native and stepson of former speedway executive Tony George, owns his own team and decided in November to run only on ovals, where he excels. He turned his car over to Mike Conway on road and street courses, and has the top spot in his first race of the year.
"It was a harder run than last year," Carpenter said. "I knew what the average was, so I was just hanging on. I was surprised last year. Obviously, we felt good this year that we had a chance this year. But it's all about the race."
Carpenter was 10th in last year's Indy 500. He is 11th driver to earn consecutive 500 poles and the first since Castroneves in 2009-10.
"Hopefully, we can close the deal this year," he said.
As a single-car team last year, Carpenter was unable to get help on data and much-needed setup information. He didn't want a repeat this May, so he hired Hildebrand to drive a second car at Indy for Ed Carpenter Racing. 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.
Carpenter thrived in the first year of a new Indy 500 qualifying format. He had the car to beat after posting the top qualifying speed on Saturday. The fastest nine drivers advanced to Sunday's shootout for the pole.
Juan Pablo Montoya had the fastest four-lap average among drivers ineligible to win the Indianapolis 500 pole and will start 10th.
Montoya averaged 231.007 mph and is 10th. He's followed by reigning series champion Scott Dixon and former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch.
Busch is set to race 1,100 miles in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25. Busch raced in NASCAR's All-Star race the night before and flew back from Concord, North Carolina, on Sunday morning.
Defending 500 champion Tony Kanaan starts 16th.
Hinchcliffe appeared to have no problems in the car days after he was cleared to return for his concussion. He paced as he watched Carpenter make his final run, then his chance at the pole end when Carpenter found more speed on his final lap.
For the first time, IndyCar awarded points based on qualifying runs. The top qualifier on Saturday earned 33 points, second place got 32 and so on, all the way to one point for the 33rd-place entrant.
The pole winner earned another nine points Sunday, decreasing to one point for the ninth-place starter.