Brian Vickers scores first Sprint Cup win in four seasons

4 Comments

Brian Vickers stretched out his final fuel load and held on to win the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a green-white-checkered finish – his first victory in NASCAR’s top category since the 2009 season.

A debris caution with five laps remaining set the stage for the G-W-C, with Vickers and Tony Stewart – both running low on fuel – leading the field to the green flag. Kyle Busch in third dropped to the inside for a brief attempt at three-wide, but coming off of Turn 2, Vickers was able to clear Stewart on the outside. Moments later, Stewart slowed on the track as his car went bone-dry, effectively handing the race to the Michael Waltrip Racing part-timer.

The win is especially sweet for Vickers, who has been through many obstacles in recent years both on the track and off. In May of 2010, while driving for Team Red Bull, he suffered blood clots in his legs and around his lungs, which forced him out for the remainder of that season. He would return in 2011, but at the end of that year, the Red Bull camp shut down.

Since last year, he has raced in a part-time capacity for MWR and currently splits the No. 55 Toyota with Mark Martin and team owner Michael Waltrip. However, Waltrip has been eyeing Vickers to take over that particular ride full-time for next season.

Vickers’ crew chief, Rodney Childers, said to TNT after today’s win that he felt it was “pretty much a done deal” that his driver would get the ride. Vickers wouldn’t go that far, however.

“Nothing’s a guarantee in life,” he said in Victory Lane. “I’ve learned that the hard way. Even when you think it’s done, it’s not done. But it definitely goes a long way.”

As for Stewart, he wound up finishing 26th.

“It’s hard to calculate how much we’re saving on the cautions,” he said to TNT. “I thought we were three-quarter of a lap to the good there before that last caution, so obviously, we didn’t save as much as we thought we would.”

Kyle Busch wound up moving to second after Stewart sputtered out, while longtime New Hampshire contender Jeff Burton collected a strong third-place finish ahead of Brad Keselowski in fourth and Aric Almirola in fifth.

Kyle’s older brother, Kurt, looked set to fight for the win until he was caught in a Lap 226 wreck with Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth narrowly made contact in Turn 1 with Busch, who then went into Newman and caused the two to spin out.

Kurt finished 31st after leading 102 laps on the day.

Sixth place went to Jimmie Johnson, who had to start 43rd today for the first time in his NASCAR career after he was disqualified from Friday qualifying for failing post-race inspection. Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth and Jeff Gordon rounded out the Top 10.

Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
1 Comment

Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.

The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.

Try putting that on a mantle in your house.

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.

“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.

“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”

Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.

And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.

“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.

“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.

“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”

Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.

Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.

“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Michael Andretti celebrates his 5 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, and Takuma Sato celebrates his first Indy 500 win
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.

“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.

Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.

It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.

Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.

“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.

“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.

“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”