SPEEDWAY, Ind. (May 24, 2015) – In the middle of Sunday’s 99th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, veteran Townsend Bell looked like he was going to drive the popular No. 24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet to the front of the 33-driver field at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Bell, making his ninth 500 start, moved into the top-ten from his 23rd starting position in the Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing-prepared Chevy at lap 100 before a sun-drenched crowd of over a quarter of a million people at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Bell and his squad made adjustments after the first pit stop Sunday that had the California native posting speeds fastest than the leaders after 40 laps in the 200-lap classic.
Unfortunately, Bell’s charge was cut short late in the race when the track conditions became much hotter and he was forced to finish 14th at the checkered flag. Bell also said the middle of the field had several close calls and he was able to dodge numerous incidents.
At the end, Bell’s car was a little too free in the handling and he fell back from a top-ten to 14th late in the race.
“That was a wild race in the middle of the field today,” said Bell, who is one of the few “Indy 500 only” drivers in the field. “I thought there was going to be a couple of big crashes on the back straight. I’m not sure how everyone made it through some of that stuff. At the end, there were people on the grass and in the gray stuff near the wall. Then, at the start, I was sure than (Takuma) Sato was going to hit my right rear wheel when he came off the wall. I had to do a big swerve to avoid him.”
Bell was pleased with the adjustments his team made throughout the race, but the last stint proved his undoing as his Robert Graham Special slid around the racing surface in the last 30 laps.
“My first stint was pretty shaky as the car was pushing (understeer) badly,” he said. “But we took on a half-turn of front wing and the Robert Graham Special really came alive. I think I passed like nine cars in the next stint. We really didn’t make too many changes throughout the race after that. The last stint wasn’t the best but our Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing crew was spectacular on the last pit stop. In fact, they were outstanding all day with the pit stops. Overall, the conditions were difficult at the end and we didn’t have the setup to stay in the top-ten. Graham (Rahal) took fifth and I raced with him a lot today. We just were a little light in downforce later in the race. I’m happy to take it to the checkered flag. Just wish we would have finished further up on the scoring pylon.”
Juan Pablo Montoya won his second Indy 500 Sunday in a sensational duel with fellow Chevrolet racers Will Power, Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon.
One of the highlights of the day came before the start of the race when five-time Brickyard 400 champion Jeff Gordon, serving as the Indy 500 pace car driver, visited with Bell at the No. 24 Robert Graham Special. Bell, a big Gordon fan, wanted to pay tribute to Gordon in his final full-time racing season. In fact, Bell picked the No. 24 in the same script as Gordon’s Chevy stock car and put together of photo montage of Gordon’s Brickyard wins in his cockpit. Gordon and his family stopped by the No. 24 to see the spectacular livery before the Indy 500 Sunday.
“I was always a big fan of Jeff’s.” said Bell before the race. “It was his style and how he handled himself. When Dennis (Reinbold) asked what number I wanted for the Indy 500, I ran through some numbers but said stop at 24. I want to do a tribute to Jeff at the Brickyard. He is a legend there. So we also took all of his winning Brickyard photos and made a montage in our cockpit for this year’s race. We didn’t know he would drive the Corvette pace car too. It was a great tie-in. And very nice to chat with him and his family before the race today.”