Some recent racing “Super Bowl” moments

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We’re only a couple of weeks out from SpeedWeeks at Daytona, the kickoff to the 2014 NASCAR season. The Daytona 500 is unique in that it’s the “Super Bowl” of the series, but it is the first event of the year rather than the last.

Anyway, as today, most of the country prepares for Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, we’ll run a quick list of recent memorable moments from racing’s “Super Bowl” equivalent events over the last few years.

Because it’s never too early to look ahead to the blue riband events of the year.

NASCAR: Daytona 500

  • 2013: NASCAR’s new Generation-6 car debuts. Danica Patrick scores the pole, and a media blitz follows. Order is restored in the galaxy when Jimmie Johnson wins.
  • 2012: Rain pushes the 500 to Monday night, then a bizarre crash occurs under a yellow when Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet drier. Underdog race leaders Dave Blaney and Landon Cassill get freight trained on the eventual restart after a red flag, and Matt Kenseth wins.
  • 2011: Trevor Bayne takes a shock win for the Wood Brothers, after David Ragan is penalized for changing lanes on a restart.

IndyCar; Indianapolis 500

  • 2013: Tony Kanaan makes the eventual winning move on a restart with a few laps to go, with his elusive first ‘500 win confirmed as longtime friend and former teammate Dario Franchitti crashes in Turn 1.
  • 2012: Franchitti holds off the charge from Takuma Sato, who loses control after a passing attempt into Turn 1 (the simply awesome Japanese call is linked here). Franchitti’s win, we had no idea at the time, would be his third ‘500 and last of his illustrious IndyCar career.
  • 2011: The centennial ‘500 featured a dramatic finish, as rookie JR Hildebrand crashed lapping fellow rookie Charlie Kimball in Turn 4. Hildebrand slides to the line, but the late Dan Wheldon passes his former car to pull the popular upset for Bryan Herta Autosport.

Formula 1: Monaco Grand Prix

  • 2013: Nico Rosberg dominates an attrition-filled day to score his second career victory for Mercedes.
  • 2012: Michael Schumacher is the fastest qualifier, but dropped five positions to serve an avoidable contact penalty from the previous Grand Prix. Mark Webber capitalizes, en route to his second Monaco victory for Red Bull.
  • 2011: A late red flag for an accident shifts tire strategy, and Sebastian Vettel is able to hold off fellow World Champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button for what has been, thus far, his only Monaco win.

Sports cars/FIA WEC: 24 Hours of Le Mans

  • 2013: Early-race accident that claims Allan Simonsen’s life casts a shadow over the rest of the race. Audi still wins, with eventual FIA World Endurance Champions Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval behind the wheel of the R18 e-tron quattro.
  • 2012: McNish’s late race charge against his teammates Benoit Treluyer, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler ends with a spin, so the defending champs win their second straight race. Anthony Davidson goes for this wild ride in his Toyota, while the other Toyota hits the debuting DeltaWing and driver Satoshi Motoyama tries in vain to repair the wounded prototype.
  • 2011: Audi loses McNish’s car with this horror smash, then loses Mike Rockenfeller’s car in another awful accident. But the one remaining Audi, driven by Treluyer, Lotterer and Fassler, hold off three Peugeots for the win. Simon Pagenaud’s efforts in the new 908 came up a scant 13 seconds short after 24 hours.

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

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
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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.”