NASCAR

Oriol Servia will start in front row at Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)

Last year, Oriol Servia spent the Indianapolis 500 aimlessly wandering around the garage area - a driver without a car.

This year, he's planning to win ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.''

He'll start Sunday's race in the front row after qualifying third for Newman/Haas Racing.

''I feel it's our time,'' said Servia, whose best finish in two starts is 11th in 2008. ''I truly believe we will be proud winners. We're going to have good pit stops. We're going to have a good car.''

The 36-year-old Spaniard has gotten off to a blazing start this season. He finished in the top 10 in all four races and is third in the point standings.

Although he and his team were confident coming into Indy, they certainly didn't expect to be in their current position.

''I think we wouldn't have bet that we'd be in the front row,'' he said. ''We know we were going to have a good car because we always get good cars at Newman/Haas. We just had not spent the money over the winter like these big-time teams on pure speed for qualifying. We just did the best we could every day.''

As he well knows, you don't want to be a spectator come race day.

A year ago, no one noticed him in the garage area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now, it's nonstop high-fives, autograph requests and shouts of ''Way to go!'' and ''Good job!''

Servia joined Newman/Haas after missing the entire 2010 season and driving just five races in 2009 because he couldn't get enough sponsorship. The ensuing countless Power Point presentations and sales calls forced him to consider ending his racing career.

''The truth is, that's not what I do best,'' he said. ''What I do best is to drive and set up the car and work with the team. I'm not a salesman.''

Still, Newman/Haas is sold on his potential.

''The first thing we wanted to do was to look for who we thought was the best driver to lead the team, who is the best driver available, and it was pretty easy for us to choose Oriol,'' Newman/Haas owner Brian Lisles said. ''We expect Oriol to be with the team this year and for a good number of years after.''

Servia never doubted his skills. In 2008, he and Will Power, who leads the point standings, were teammates with KV Racing, and Servia felt they had comparable skills: ''I knew inside of me that when Power went over to Penske and was the new revolution of the paddock, I said 'Wait a second! I don't think I'm that bad!'''

''I had been doing this all my life,'' he said. ''It's not like I take it for granted, but all of a sudden, when you're forced to stop for a year because teams need money and you don't bring money, there's just a moment where you decide, it's time to do something else, or there's something inside of you that says, 'No, I still want to do this.'''

Servia is glad he chose to keep driving because he believes he has improved over the years.

''I think like wine,'' he said. ''I think I've gotten better with age.''

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Cliff Brunt can be reached at http://twitter.com/cliffbruntap.

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