Indy 500 Insights: Townsend Bell analyzes his week of practice, qualifying before Carb Day

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Every year, Townsend Bell puts together a one-off Indianapolis 500 program. The 2014 edition will be Bell’s eighth ‘500 appearance, after making his debut in 2006 and running every year consecutively since 2008. This year, he returns to KV Racing Technology, the team where he posted his career-best ‘500 finish of fourth in 2009, and where he seeks to improve upon it this year. The NBC Sports Group Verizon IndyCar Series analyst is able to provide both a driver’s an analyst’s perspective in the field. For part four of this daily series through this week (see parts three, two, one here), Townsend discusses the week that was in terms of practice and qualifying.

After nearly a year out of an IndyCar – since his last Indianapolis 500 appearance here last year – the days of May 11-19 saw Townsend Bell get back to up to speed to prepare for his eighth ‘500 start.

The elements and ingredients are there for success. Bell joins a stacked four-car KV Racing Technology lineup, the defending race-winning team, with teammates Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra and rookie James Davison.

Factor in a crew that includes former Wayne Taylor Racing team manager Simon Hodgson, ace engineer Gerald Tyler and crew chief Didier Francesia, among others, and Bell has as good a shot as any of the one-off ‘500 entries.

Admittedly, practice has been a challenge. Bell ran a total of 374 laps over the week but missed running on both Wednesday, May 14, due to the rain and on Fast Friday, May 16. While the balance has been good, and the car strong in race traffic, it hasn’t quite had the outright, top-end performance to mix it up in the top nine.

And it showed. Although Bell was good in race trim – crucially – he won’t be starting from that great a position, with 25thh the spot where he’ll roll off in the No. 6 Robert Graham-Royal Purple-Beneteau USA Chevrolet for KVRT.

“We just were slow, but with a great balance,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk in an interview earlier this week. “We were totally consistent, but just slow. I’m not sure why. It was weird.”

The plight shared by the KVRT team mirrored that of fellow Chevrolet-powered Chip Ganassi Racing, which you’d expect to be frontrunners but, no matter how small the margin, is just that fractional bit off this month.

“Let’s say I’m just 1.5 mph off of the Fast Nine,” Bell said. “It’s not that much, really. But you’d never see the gap from first to last be that short in the past.”

“We had Bourdais almost at 230, I was low 229, Saavedra was 228,” he added. “Ganassi was similar. Almost 231 for (Scott) Dixon, 230 TK (Tony Kanaan), 229 (Charlie) Kimball, and 228 (Ryan) Briscoe. Others matched up better in consistency over the course of the run; we didn’t.”

If there is a silver lining for Bell, it’s that he came from a similar back-third starting position to his career-best finish in the ‘500, from 24th to fourth driving for KV in 2009.

His other starts? He was 15th as a rookie in 2006, 12th in 2008, then 24th, 10th, fourth, 20th and 22nd. He has three top-10 finishes (fourth in 2009, ninth in 2012 and 10th in 2008).

“I’ve done it before to come from the back, but man, it’s not exactly easy to lay it down and make up 23 positions. But we’ll put our heads down,” Bell said.

Today, Bell pulls double duty between the cockpit for final practice and the NBCSN broadcast booth, covering today’s Pit Stop Competition and Carb Day action (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN).

“The ‘Carb Day’ name is a misnomer because it used to be carburetors way back … but now it’s our final one-hour practice,” Bell said. “It’s gonna be fast and furious as everyone tries to refine. This one hour is really important for you to show how you do in traffic. With the freight train of 20 cars, there’s a vicious turbulent air.

“It’s a critical session with pit stop practice and plugging in. I’m looking forward to doing the practice then head to the booth to cover the pit stop competition.”

NHRA: Alexis DeJoria brings free mammograms to Texas, Las Vegas races

DeJoria pink race car for breast cancer awareness month
(Photo courtesy Alexis DeJoria Racing)
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Some drivers see red when they’re behind the wheel of a 300-mph Funny Car.

But NHRA Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria is seeing pink in the month of October – and she’s proud of it.

DeJoria, who owns Alexis DeJoria Racing and drives the Tequila Patron Toyota for Kalitta Racing, is using the color pink to call attention to breast cancer awareness month in October.

DeJoria has partnered with Baylor Healthcare Systems to offer free mammograms to race fans attending this weekend’s AAA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex (Friday and Saturday) in Ennis, Texas.

She’ll reprise that role, partnering with Nevada Health Centers for the Toyota Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas Oct. 30-31.

According to a media release, ‘”Mammovans’ (mobile mammography units) will be parked in the nitro pits of the racetracks, and free mammograms will be available on-site during both weekends to female ticketholders over the age of 40, regardless of whether or not they have health insurance.”

Those who seek to be screened do not need an appointment or referral. If you have health insurance, bring your insurance information to the race. Test results will be sent via mail approximately ten days after the event.

This year’s initiative continues a program DeJoria began three years ago when she launched the “Free Mammograms for the Fans” program.

Also, DeJoria will drive a hot pink race car in both events.

“I really want to thank the Patrón Spirits Company and Toyota for their support, as well as Kalitta Motorsports, everyone who bought items on our eBay fundraising page, purchased our pink Fight Like a Girl bracelets and made donations,” said DeJoria. “It all goes toward this very wonderful life-saving cause and we would not be able to provide this service to our fans without their support.”

Added Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales USA, “If we are able to save the life of so much as one mother, daughter, sister, wife or friend, it will be well worth our additional investment in our partners at DeJoria (Alexis DeJoria Racing). It truly is rewarding to be able to assist one of our race teams on a program that is so meaningful to so many people.”

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Sir Stirling Moss: Enclosed cockpits in open-wheel racing ‘ridiculous’

Sir Stirling Moss Getty
(Getty Images)
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While IndyCar mulls some type of enclosed cockpits or canopies in their race cars as early as 2017 to enhance driver safety, one racing legend scoffs at the notion that open-wheel racing should go down that path.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Sir Stirling Moss told Road and Track at the recent Lime Rock Historic Festival. “Motor racing is dangerous. And one does it – some of us do it – because it is dangerous. I was one of those. And I think to go and put forward things like that is absolutely ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.”

MORE: IndyCar CEO: No safety changes for 2016 car, despite Wilson death

It’s the opinion of the 85-year-old Moss that safety elements in one form of open-wheel racing – namely, Formula 1 – are as good as they can be at the moment.

“I think quite honestly, most events have good flag marshaling, which is very important,” Moss said. “The drivers know what they can do and they usually stick within their realistic limits.

“But of course, obviously, the sort of racing and etiquette you have on a circuit like this, or, a club circuit, is necessarily pretty different when you start talking Formula One.

“But, I think (danger) is part of the sport. I don’t think anybody wants to get hurt, but they’re all going to push themselves up to their limit, and that’s pretty good.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski