It wasn't a big secret that Townsend Bell was in line for the second Sam Schmidt car as a teammate to Simon Pagenaud for the Indy 500, but it is all well and official as Bell is set to drive the No. 99 car with a Honda powerplant and sponsorship from BraunAbility, an Indiana-based manufacturer of personal mobility equipment.
This will be the California native's sixth appearance in the 500, a place where he has shown steady improvement since first arriving in 2006. After finishing P22 and P10 in his first two efforts in 2006 and 2008, respectively, the 37-year-old drove from 24th starting position to a fourth-place finish in 2009 then started 10th and finished 16th in 2010.
Last year, driving as a teammate of polesitter Alex Tagliani for SSM, Bell made the Fast Nine shootout and started fourth on the inside of the second row. He ran among the top 10 for most of the day before getting tangled up with Ryan Briscoe heading into Turn 1 on Lap 158 and was classified in 26th place.
Expect Bell to have a good month...he knows his way around the Speedway very well, and has proven to be a very good qualifier given the little practice time he has had in past years. He should also be a big help to Pagenaud, who will be attempting to qualify for his first 500. Pagenaud has had some great success as a one driver operation this year, so having someone to share data with can only help him with his Indy learning curve.
I also expect Townsend to have a much bigger fanbase this year thanks to his excellent work with the NBC Sports Network gig. Very outgoing, knowledgeable and witty, he has been a huge addition to the TV team. Still, racing is what he does best and it will be good to see him in a car at Indy again.