Harvick’s new bosses happy after Phoenix win

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Consider Tony Stewart and Gene Haas pleased with their newest hire.

The two co-owners of Stewart-Haas Racing got to celebrate with Kevin Harvick, who dominated today’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and claimed his first win as a member of SHR.

It wasn’t an great day completely across the board for SHR. Stewart wound up a quiet 16th, while Kurt Busch’s Top-10 run was spoiled mid-race by a dropped cylinder that eventually led to a blown motor on Lap 292. Second-year driver Danica Patrick was also involved in a pair of spins en route to a 36th-place finish.

But in the end, Harvick saved the day, and Stewart paid a visit to Victory Lane to congratulate him.

Winning car owner with the winning driver. #NASCAR

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Harvick’s win is also a moment of vindication for SHR, which had to deal with a lot of attention over the off-season for its ambitious expansion to four cars. Harvick and Busch entered the fold from Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row Racing respectively, while Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, migrated from Michael Waltrip Racing.

“This is phenomenal,” Haas said to reporters after the race. “I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony were up to or if there was a lot of madness to this…It’s a great team. There’s a lot of synergy at the shop and people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we’ve put together a great organization.

“I have to thank Rodney and Kevin for having the magic that it takes to win these things, and we’ll make sure that we don’t disturb that…It’s a very good feeling [to win].”

Harvick himself noted that air of skepticism surrounding SHR over the winter and admitted that he thought about all the ways things could go awry leading into today’s race.

“You’re trying to think of everything we could do wrong and Rodney’s probably annoyed with me as I’ve come in the hauler and asked about 5,000 questions about probably the dumbest things he’s ever heard of,” he said.

“But all in all, Gene has given us every resource that you could imagine. Tony has been just very supportive of whatever we’ve wanted to do, and Rodney has put together a group of guys that believes in what we’re doing.”

Last Sunday, SHR’s first run at the Daytona 500 as a four-car team was not an especially great one as Harvick, Stewart, Patrick and Busch all failed to crack the Top 10.

But Harvick said that the team refused to get down on themselves after the lackluster outing in the “500.”

“We’ve had some hiccups through the first week and I felt like we were going to have those,” he said. “I think everybody was anticipating those.

“But nobody was pointing fingers. Nobody said, ‘It’s this guy’s fault’ or ‘it’s that guy’s fault.’ Everybody said, ‘Alright, what do we need to do to fix that?’ or ‘What do we need to do to fix this to try to make that better?'”

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.”