Visit with Townsend Bell; Schmidt needles Tony Stewart; Danica silent

Late last week an IndyCar Series publicist asked if I’d like to interview potential Indy 500 qualifier Townsend Bell on Monday.

 

1. Nice visit with Townsend Bell
2. Schmidt needles Tony Stewart
3. Danica to fans: a silent ‘no comment’

1. Nice visit with Townsend Bell

Late last week an IndyCar Series publicist asked if I’d like to interview potential Indy 500 qualifier Townsend Bell on Monday.

He said Bell would be traveling to Las Vegas on Monday to meet with media to talk about the Indy 500. Bell was not assured of a starting spot.

I said sure, not knowing whether Bell would qualify for the 100th anniversary of the race. He drives an IndyCar owned by Henderson’s Sam Schmidt so I knew Bell would have something interesting to say.

As it turned out, Bell, whose last IndyCar race was last year’s 500, qualified an astounding third for Schmidt. Another one of Schmidt’s drivers and a part-time Las Vegas resident Alex Tagliani won the pole.

(Visit TownsendBell.com and SamSchmidtMotorsports.com)

A third member of the team, Dan Wheldon, qualified sixth to give Schmidt half of the front two rows for Sunday’s Indy 500.

“Townsend qualifying fourth was about as big as winning the pole,” Schmidt said by telephone Monday morning from Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Schmidt explained the car Bell used in qualifying was the same one the team raced in Brazil three weeks ago. It had to be shipped back to Indy after going through customs, then painted and rebuilt.

Bell said of the team’s Indy qualifying success, “It’s pretty huge.

“I was happy for Tags and thrilled for Sam. It was just cool.”

Quite the understatement considering Bell’s Indy racing has been limited to the 500 the past two years. He hopes that changes this year, especially if he has a successful 500.

He would like to find added sponsorship or expand a deal with Herbalife, his Indy sponsor, to run at least the seven oval tracks this season and vie for the IndyCar Oval Championship. That would mean he would run in the Oct. 16 Izod IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But first things first: the Indy 500.

(R-J columnist Ron Kantowski plans a column about Schmidt for Tuesday’s editions of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and lvrj.com.)

2. Schmidt needles Tony Stewart

Schmidt was able to tease long-time friend Tony Stewart after Tagliani won the Indy pole. Schmidt had publicist Joe Crowley send a text that Schmidt had won an Indy 500 pole and Stewart never has. That was right about when Stewart was being introduced before the NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Schmidt uses the PR firm True Speed Communications that is owned by Stewart. 

3. Danica to fans: a silent ‘no comment’

When it looked like rain would prevent Danica Patrick from making a last-minute try Saturday to qualify for the 500 she got out of her car and ignored requests to be interviewed.

Patrick finally got chance and made it into Sunday’s field where she will start 26th. That puts her two spots behind Simona de Silvestro, who took laps Saturday after a crash on Thursday left her with burns on both hands.

What was worse than Patrick’s silence was an absurd defense by a Versus announcer that her silence was “understandable.”

No it wasn’t. She owes viewers and especially her fans an opportunity to know what she was thinking.

Patrick wasn’t the only diva.

Reigning Indy 500 champ Dario Franchitti stomped away after his car ran out of fuel during the shootout among the top nine drivers for their final starting order.

Franchitti said Monday that a communication breakdown caused the problem, which also hindered teammate Scott Dixon. After Franchitti’s first run, his crew drained the tank. But not everybody realized that later, so it wasn’t completely filled before he went back out.

Franchitti walked off, helmet still on, not doing any interviews.

"I didn’t want to talk to anybody or speak to anybody or listen to anybody," he said. "I just wanted to go away for a minute. I didn’t have anything positive to say and I was very angry."

Great. Hide your feelings from the fans.

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