Townsend Bell has certainly managed to stick around this whole IndyCar business, hasn't he? The 2001 Indy Lights champ never had what you'd call a stable ride, but just keeps on plugging along. How he's done it is as varied as the liveries of the teams he's represented along the way.
Long before he was an IndyCar analyst with NBC Sports, before his reputation as a super-substitute was cemented, Bell was another on-again, off-again driver, one that could have been another casualty, lost somewhere in the chaotic days before the reunification of IndyCar. There was a single race here, a stand-in for Milka Duno there, but no sustained IndyCar season. Still, he hung around, and rare was the racing season we didn't hear his name a few times.
Over that time, something funny happened. Despite a slow start at Indy in 2006, Bell managed to find his niche. He had a Top 10 in 2008, follow by a thrilling 4th place finish in 2009. Even a rough 2010 didn't seem to diminish his newfound reputation at Indianapolis. He started on the second row in 2011, and of course rebounded from a rough qualifying effort to score another 500 Top 10 last year.
Now, at 38 years of age, Townsend Bell is a respected veteran of Indy, always seen as at least a threat to finish up front. If Panther Racing can rebound from a disappointing 2012, Bell's #60 Sunoco/Turbo machine could again be a threat.
Bell isn't likely to be a full-time IndyCar driver anytime soon, despite the fact that his reputation as an oval standout belies his extensive history and experience on the twisties. Frankly, I think as much as I like his driving, he's a big asset to IndyCar in the broadcast booth. He brings wisdom, common sense, and an insider's view without sacrificing any enthusiasm for the on-track action. I have really enjoyed his time paired with Leigh Diffey on-air this year.
In short, while I welcome Townsend Bell in the booth and hope he remains a big part of of the team for the foreseeable future, I also appreciate his record at Indianapolis, and his well-deserved reputation as a fantastic one-off or part-timer there. Far from being a field-filler, Bell is a valuable add to this 500 list of hopefuls in terms of competition. He's in a good spot; a veteran driver that can show up and be a welcome addition to a team. We're to a point where we expect to see Bell each May, and at least throw him in the discussion. There's no reason think he doesn't have at least a few more Indy 500 runs in him, and I'm excited to see what he can do with them.