With the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup now down to its final five races after last night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch knows that time is running out.
Busch finished fifth in the race, but was unable to gain ground in the points standings; in fact, he lost two more points to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth (who finished third) and now sits 37 points behind him in fifth place. And after crashing out at Kansas Speedway last weekend, Busch knows that finishing behind his main rivals in the championship won’t do anymore.
“We should be happy about [a Top-5], but when it’s championship time, that’s not what you need – we need wins and we can’t win,” Busch said. “…We’re not good enough. It’s frustrating, man. I’m beating myself up every week trying to figure out what I got to do to be better, and I don’t know what it is. I work hard through practice. I work hard through the week. I study film. I do everything I need to do — but it’s not paying off.
“We probably would have run third tonight without that last caution [with 28 laps to go]. We would have made up some points on some guys. Instead, we got beat by all the guys that we’re racing essentially…We need to win races and we’re not capable of doing that right now.”
Busch got into early trouble during his first pit stop of the night under yellow. A miscue by his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team forced Busch to make a second stop and tossed him all the way to the rear of the field.
Undeterred, Busch roared back to the front and cracked the Top 5 before the midway mark. He was able to stay up in the lead pack for the remainder of the night despite apparent engine woes in the final laps; Busch thought at one point that the engine might be blowing up, but the team eventually figured the issue was due to burning too much fuel.
In any other situation, a Top-5 would be considered a good night, especially after Busch was able to cut through the field and get in contention again. But in the thick of a championship fight, “Rowdy” wanted – and needed – more.
“They say you need Top-5s to win a championship, but when you’re getting beat by the guys in front of you, then we’re just not good enough – flat-out,” he said. “I don’t know what to do to be better.
“It’s frustrating, but you know, I should be happy with a fifth, but we’re not. I’m not.”
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.
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.”
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.”