Jeff Gordon back atop Sprint Cup standings after trouble for Kenseth

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A Top-10 finish for Jeff Gordon, combined with a mid-pack result for Matt Kenseth, has put the Hendrick Motorsports driver back to the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

Gordon finished eighth today in the Pocono 400 despite often losing out on restarts and in the track position battle.

“When guys got out of sequence there, it just really got our track position off,” he said. “Once we lost that track position, it was so hard to regain it.

“…Ultimately, the restarts – even when I got a good one, something would happen somebody would about wreck in front of me or dive in there four-wide and just cause a mess. We just couldn’t come out on the good end of that side of it. That is what you have got to do to be good.”

Gordon wasn’t a factor at the end, but he was still better off than previous points leader Matt Kenseth.

Around Lap 40 in today’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway, Kenseth made contact with Jamie McMurray on the front-stretch. The run-in left Kenseth with a major hole that covered almost the entire nose of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

JGR repaired as much of the damage as they could, and Kenseth rose back into the Top 5 while the various fuel strategies played out. But he ultimately finished in 25th position.

What was a slim, two-point lead for the winless Kenseth is now a 16-point lead for Gordon (one win at Kansas) as the series shifts to Michigan International Speedway next weekend.

Kenseth and Kyle Larson (who finished fifth today) remain the only two drivers in the Top 10 of the Sprint Cup standings without a win so far this season.

As for today’s winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., he now moves up to third in the championship at 22 points behind HMS amigo Gordon. Jimmie Johnson’s sixth-place finish at Pocono allows him to keep fourth in the standings (-23 points), and Brad Keselowski vaults from eighth to fifth (-50 points) after his runner-up.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS, TOP 16
After Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway
1. Jeff Gordon (one win), 498 points
2. Matt Kenseth, 482
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (two wins), 476
4. Jimmie Johnson (two wins), 475
5. Brad Keselowski (one win), 448
6. Kyle Busch (one win), 443
7. Carl Edwards (one win), 441
8. Denny Hamlin (one win), 420
9. Joey Logano (two wins), 418
10. Kyle Larson, 417
11. Ryan Newman, 411
12. Kevin Harvick (two wins), 403
13. Brian Vickers, 392
14. Greg Biffle, 385
15. Austin Dillon, 385
16. Clint Bowyer, 383

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.”