When asked about his experiences at the Indianapolis 500, Jay Howard's mood goes glum rather quickly.
It hasn't been pretty.
In 2009, Howard joined Roth Racing for what was initially believed to be the entire season. Instead, John Andretti replaced Howard for the 500 after bringing sponsorship.
In 2010, Howard was sweating through the final minutes of Bump Day in 33rd position. As the end of qualifying neared, several drivers were looking to knock Howard out of the field. In an attempt to both improve starting position and prevent Paul Tracy, who was next in line, from getting on the track in a bumping situation, Howard withdrew his time and qualified again. He was too slow and didn't make the show.
In 2012, Howard teamed up with Michael Shank Racing for the 500. Despite a new team showing interest in the IndyCar Series, an engine lease from either Honda or Chevrolet did not come, meaning both driver and team missed the 500.
So Howard can appreciate the uneventful May he has enjoyed in 2017. His deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was announced in March, as well as the financial partnership with Tony Stewart and his Team One Cure program. The two weeks of practice and qualifying went smooth for the 36-year-old Brit, who is simply overjoyed to experience a May at Indianapolis lacking much in the way of drama.
"It's been brutal, no way to sugarcoat it," said Howard about his past at Indianapolis. "But I look at it as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 500 doesn't owe anybody anything.
"As they say, the track picks its winners, you just have to give the place respect."
Howard plans to do plenty of that and will look to move through the field on Sunday. He will start the race 20th, comfortably in the show after so many years of torment and disappointment.
Howard's only other Indy 500 start came in 2011 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports when he finished 30th. Being able to compete again with the team he made his initial Indy 500 appearance with is big.
"Just in the way the Schmidt Peterson and Honda guys work together is really, really impressive," Howard said. "It is very different to how it was before with only one engine maker."
But the true hero of Howard's Indy 500 ride is Stewart, the former IndyCar and NASCAR star who is enjoying retirement by racing what he wants, when he wants. Stewart's return to Indianapolis did not involve driving in this year's 500, but rather helping fund a driver. That driver is Howard, who is reaping the benefits.
"If it weren't for Tony, I am not sure this ride would have happened," Howard said. "I can't thank him enough for his support."
According to Howard, there have been a few times in which Stewart has eyed the Indy car and considered jumping in, even for just a couple quick laps at speed around the track.
For now, Stewart is fine with being an observer.
"We will see if we can get him in one at some point," Howard said.
This month on the track has been a catharsis of sorts for Howard, allowing him to exorcise the demons of Indy 500 disappointments of the past.
"A lot of drivers I think take racing for granted, but that's not me," Howard said. "This is extremely special for me and everyone involved. I am enjoying every minute of it and hopefully I continue to enjoy it through the end of the race."