Townsend Bell 500 MIGLIA E LA 24 ORE DI LE MANS

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Townsend Bell makes only one start a year in IndyCar racing but it’s the one race that counts most: The crown-jewel Indianapolis 500.

The veteran California racer will appear in his ninth Indy 500 on Sunday, where he’ll start 23rd in the 33-car field at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a car prepared by the Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing team.Jim Pelt

“Indy’s unique, so you only get to come here once a year anyway if you’re a full-time [IndyCar] driver,” Bell said in an interview. “I don’t feel that far behind when I get out here.”

And just because Bell competes against IndyCar’s regular drivers only on Memorial Day weekend doesn’t mean he’s not competitive.

Bell, 40, finished a career-best fourth in 2009. And last year he was running second with only 25 laps remaining in the 200-lap race.

But while driving three-wide through Indy’s Turn 1, he narrowly avoided a wreck that collected Ed Carpenter and James Hinchclift

“Then my left rear suspension broke with 10 [laps] to go,” leaving him with a 25th-place finish, Bell recalled.

Bell, who lives in Pacific Palisades, splits the rest of his time between racing in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship Series and being an IndyCar analyst on television for NBC Sports Network. He also plans to drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race next month.

But on Sunday, he has to keep pace with the powerhouse drivers from Penske, Ganassi and the other top teams.

“I respect them immensely because they’re great race teams,” Bell said. “To win this race you’ve got to beat those guys.

“But I’ve got a great race team that comes totally prepared to compete. And I’m a racer, man.”