Back at it
Luyendyk happy to be racing at Indy again
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- Arie Luyendyk's regretted his retirement as he sat in the broadcast booth watching the Indianapolis 500 last May.
"I felt left out," he said.
At that moment, he began to think seriously about a comeback, one that could carry him for the third time to the winner's circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"I have a lot of passion for this place," he said. "I love being here. I have to get it out of my system."
So he's back. And the Flying Dutchman, the record-holder in qualifying and race speeds, is one of the favorites Sunday.
Luyendyk, who won the race in 1990 and 1997, will start sixth in the 33-car field, qualifying at 224.257 mph.
That's not even close to his record run of 236.986 in 1996 -- before the Indy Racing League switched to restricted engines -- but impressive because Luyendyk hadn't even sat in a race car for 22 months before testing in April for Fred Treadway.
"Nothing has really changed much," the 47-year-old driver said. "I'm back with Treadway and all the guys that worked on my car before are still there."
Luyendyk said it was easy to get back in the car, like returning to the family he left behind with the decision late in 1998 that the 1999 Indy 500 would be his final race.
"I was having a pretty rough year in 1998, with lots of setbacks with the equipment," he explained. "I also got into a bunch of accidents, mostly because other people made mistakes and I was in the wrong place."
Still, he had doubts almost immediately after announcing his retirement. They deepened when he arrived at the Brickyard for his intended swan song.
"I said to Fred, 'You know, I think I might have made this final 500 announcement a little bit premature.' So I was already having second thoughts," Luyendyk said.
After he finished working for ABC Sports on the telecast last year, Luyendyk talked to Treadway about returning.
"I didn't try to talk him out of coming back," Treadway said. "I wanted him to be sure it's what he really wanted, but I've never doubted his ability as a race driver.
"I knew when he retired he was still capable. He could easily have won the 1999 race. I believe he can win this year."
Although he plays it down, the way his 1999 race ended still eats at Luyendyk.
After starting from the pole, he was leading and cruising toward what could easily have been a victory when he bumped wheels with Tyce Carlson while lapping the slower car.
Luyendyk's car slammed backward into the concrete wall. He wasn't injured, but he was embarrassed and frustrated, especially believing it was his last time in an Indy car.
"I should have known better than to be racing the traffic that hard," Luyendyk said at the time. "I was having so much fun. I probably just got too relaxed out there."
That probably won't happen Sunday.
"I think my concentration level will be very high," he said, a grin spreading across his face.
Luyendyk certainly understands the risk. Beyond the crashes he has been in and seen over the years, the danger was brought too close to home last year.
Sam Schmidt, who replaced Luyendyk at Treadway Racing, was paralyzed from the chest down in a crash during preseason testing in Florida.
"I was close to racing here last year," Luyendyk said. "I mean I was thinking about it. After Sam had his accident, it really hit hard. It hit the team really hard and myself and also my wife."
Getting back in the cockpit was too enticing for Luyendyk, who will only race at Indy. He isn't worried about the long layoff and believes he can take care of himself on the track.
"I'm still in one piece and pretty healthy," he said.
Luyendyk wants to keep it that way, but plans to have some fun on Sunday, too.
"I think the passion to drive here and the love that I have for this track and this event, for me, outweighs the risks," he said. "I know that's always going to be there."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.