Indy 500 Insights: How Townsend Bell puts a deal together

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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 one of this daily series through this week, we look at how he put his 2014 deal together.

Preparations for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 begin pretty much the day after the current year’s Indianapolis 500 takes the checkered flag.

And for Townsend Bell, erasing what was a frustrating 2013 attempt in the race is the goal.

In a second Panther Racing entry, Bell started 22nd and finished 27th – he did have one moment where he made an excellent save exiting Turn 2, after a lurid slide. But otherwise, Bell’s 2013 ‘500 experience was the story of new partnerships.

It was the first time he’d raced the ‘500 in a Chevrolet, after running with Honda in all six of his prior attempts. It came in the recognizable yellow-and-blue Sunoco colors, matching the livery for DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo, which premiered in theaters later that year.

And it was the first time we got introduced to his yellow with blue polka dot Robert Graham hat.

source: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

It’s a wonder the hat didn’t gain its own Twitter account, but it was one of the most memorable parts of Bell’s 2013 experience. It even made it to the Indianapolis 500 banquet, where Bell had a suit and rocked the hat while giving the speech.

This year, with support from Robert Graham NYC, now the primary partner on the No. 6 KV Racing Technology entry, and additionally from Royal Purple and Beneteau USA, Bell is back for his second stint with the team where he found his greatest Indianapolis 500 success.

As a one-off entry, it’s difficult to succeed, but having the partners behind makes the effort possible.

“I’ve been fortunate to have had some great supporters through the years,” Bell told MotorSportsTalk. “We’re all linked… me, my sponsors, and we’re all linked by a common thread of being driven by the dream to win the biggest race in the world. Great people jump on board to pursue that. Everyone’s been handpicked for the job.”

The team’s not afraid to have fun – witness Bell’s Robert Graham checkered driver cap now adorned by every member of his No. 6 KVRT crew.

The livery itself has gotten people talking, with a zipper down the middle to reveal a burst of speed. The inside of the car, wrapped in the color explosion, is also something to behold.

“In terms of getting partners together, I’m lucky to have a group that believe in me and want to have some fun at the same time,” Bell says. “We’ve had a great time entertaining, hats and things like that. It’s been fun. But we’re here for one main reason.”

That reason is, from a joke on Twitter, “dealing with lactose intolerance” – in reference to hoping to drink the milk Sunday afternoon.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.