Everything you need to know for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona

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Another major “wild card” opportunity for drivers to break into the Chase for the Sprint Cup will come this Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

The Coke Zero 400 is critical for everyone sporting a zero in the win column. For those that are high enough in the points standings to currently have spots on the Chase Grid, a victory puts that “points alone” scenario for making the post-season to rest.

But for those outside of the Top 16 cutoff, time is growing short and they may be feeling a little desperation about getting that win which will put them into the Chase. But they also know that restrictor-plate races can yield surprising victors.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here are all the notes and numbers to keep in mind going into Round 18 of the 2014 Sprint Cup championship…

DAYTONA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Clint Bowyer (No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota)
· Three top fives, seven top 10s
· Average finish of 16.4
· Average Running Position of 17.3, 11th-best
· Driver Rating of 83.5, ninth-best
· 77 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 189.524 mph, fourth-fastest

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· 10 top fives, 13 top 10s
· Average finish of 18.0
· Average Running Position of 16.1, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 88.9, sixth-best
· 70 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 3,692 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· 2,072 Laps in the Top 15 (60.3%), fifth-most
· 2,585 Quality Passes, third-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota)
· One win, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 18.6
· Series-best Average Running Position of 12.6
· Series-best Driver Rating of 97.1
· 84 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· 3,851 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 189.532 mph, second-fastest
· Series-high 2,413 Laps in the Top 15 (70.2%)
· Series-high 2,743 Quality Passes

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 13.4
· Average Running Position of 14.0, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.0, third-best
· 85 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· 4,036 Green Flag Passes, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 189.528 mph, third-fastest
· 2,245 Laps in the Top 15 (65.3%), second-most
· 2,710 Quality Passes, second-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Subway Ford)
· Four top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 18.1
· Average Running Position of 17.6, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 82.1, 12th-best
· 72 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 4,026 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· 1,815 Laps in the Top 15 (52.8%), eighth-most
· 2,549 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Pepsi Real Sugar Chevrolet)
· Six wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 16.3
· Average Running Position of 14.5, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 88.0, seventh-best
· 3,664 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
· 2,030 Laps in the Top 15 (59.1%), sixth-most
· 2,333 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota)
· Three top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 20.4
· Average Running Position of 16.1, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 85.5, eighth-best
· 79 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 189.471 mph, eighth-fastest

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Folds Of Honor Chevrolet)
· Two wins, six top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.8
· Driver Rating of 82.4, 11th-best
· Series-high 87 Fastest Laps Run
· 3,578 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 189.509 mph, sixth-fastest
· 1,990 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet)
· Three wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 17.0
· Average Running Position of 13.9, third-best
· Driver Rating of 89.0, fifth-best
· 2,194 Laps in the Top 15 (63.8%), fourth-most
· 2,372 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· Two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 17.1
· Average Running Position of 13.8, second-best
· Driver Rating of 92.9, second-best
· 77 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· 3,566 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· 2,228 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), third-most
· 2,453 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops / Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet)
· Four wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 17.1
· Average Running Position of 16.5, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 90.0, fourth-best
· 76 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 1,898 Laps in the Top 15 (55.2%), seventh-most

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Chase Outlook (Following Kentucky)
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Daytona International Speedway Data
Season Race #: 18 of 36 (07-05-14)
Track Size: 2.5-mile
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 31 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 31 degrees
Banking/Straights: 3 degrees
Banking/Tri-Oval: 18 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 3,800 feet
Backstretch Length: 3,000 feet
Race Length: 160 laps / 400 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Daytona
Kyle Busch…………………………… 97.1
Matt Kenseth………………………… 92.9
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 92.0
Tony Stewart…………………………. 90.0
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 89.0
Kurt Busch……………………………. 88.9
Jeff Gordon………………………….. 88.0
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 85.5
Clint Bowyer…………………………. 83.5
Kevin Harvick………………………… 83.1
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2014 races (19 total) among active drivers at Daytona International Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light pole winner: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 193.723 mph, 46.458 secs, 07-05-13
2013 race winner: Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 154.313 mph, (02:36:20), 07-06-13
Track qualifying record (July race): Cale Yarborough, Ford, 203.519 mph, 44.222 secs, 07-02-86
Track race record (July race): Bobby Allison, Mercury, 173.473 mph, (02:18:21), 07-04-80

Daytona History
· Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, 1959 – won by Bob Welborn.
· The first summer race at Daytona International Speedway was held on July 4, 1959 – won by Fireball Roberts (140.581 mph).
· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty won his 200th career race on July 4, 1984 at Daytona.
· Lights were installed in the spring of 1998. However, the July race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under the lights ever since.
· The track underwent a repave in 2010.

Daytona Notebook
· There have been 134 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona International Speedway since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 56 have been 500 miles, 51 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point races.
· 438 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series July race at Daytona International Speedway; 275 in more than one.
· Richard Petty leads the series in July race starts at Daytona with 32. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 21 starts.
· Fireball Roberts won the inaugural Coors Light pole for the July race at Daytona in 1959 with a speed of 144.997 mph.
· 37 drivers have Coors Light poles at Daytona for the July event, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough with eight. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in July race poles, with two. Gordon started first in 2007 due to qualifying being cancelled as well.
· Three drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles for the July race at Daytona: Cale Yarborough (1970-’71; 1980-’81, 1983-’84), Sterling Marlin (1991-’92) and Dale Earnhardt (1994-’95).
· Youngest Daytona pole winner: Austin Dillon (02/23/2014 – 23 years, 9 months, 27 days).
· Oldest Daytona pole winner: Mark Martin (07/02/2011 – 52 years, 5 months, 23 days).
· 34 different drivers have won the July race at Daytona International Speedway, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson with five wins. Tony Stewart leads all active drivers with four; followed by Jeff Gordon with three.
· Five drivers have posted consecutive wins in the July race at Daytona International Speedway, including three consecutive by David Pearson (1972 – 1974). Tony Stewart (2005-’06)is the only active driver to win consecutive July races at Daytona.
· Youngest Daytona winner: Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 – 20 years, 0 months, 1 day).
· Oldest Daytona winner: Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 – 50 years, 5 months, 23 days).
· The Wood Brothershave the most wins at Daytona in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 15; followed by Hendrick Motorsports with 13.
· Seven different manufacturers have won the July NSCS race at Daytona; led by Chevrolet with 18 victories; followed by Ford with 16.
· A driver has swept both races (Daytona 500 and the July race) at Daytona five times: Fireball Roberts – 1962 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 250); Cale Yarborough – 1968 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); Lee Roy Yarborough – 1969 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); Bobby Allison – 1982 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); and Jimmie Johnson – 2013 (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola).
· Eight of the 55 (14.5%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Kevin Harvick in 2010.
· The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (eight) than any other starting position in the July race at Daytona International Speedway.
· 15 of the 55 (27.2%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona have been won from the front row: eight from the pole and seven from second-place.
· 41 of the 55 (74.5%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Daytona have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Four of the 55 (7.2%) July NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Daytona was 42nd, by Tony Stewart in the 2012 July race.
· Buddy Baker leads the series in runner-up finishes in the July race at Daytona with five; followed by Richard Petty and Sterling Marlin with four. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch lead all active drivers with two each.
· NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in top-five finishes in the July race at Daytona with 13; followed by Richard Petty with 12. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven.
· David Pearson leads the series in top-10 finishes in the July race at Daytona with 19; followed by Dale Earnhardt with 18. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 11.
· Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Daytona with a 10.440.
· Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Daytona with a 13.379.
· Greg Biffle won the July race at Daytona in his first appearance.
· Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Daytona without visiting Victory Lane at 38.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway for the July race was the July 7, 2007 race won by Jamie McMurray over Kyle Busch with a MOV of 0.005 second.
· Four of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series July races have resulted with a green-white-checkered finish at Daytona International Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): 2008 (160/162), 2010 (160/166), 2011 (160/170) and 2013 (160/161).
· Only one of the 55 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series July races at Daytona International Speedway has been shortened due to weather conditions – July 6, 1996 – the race was called on Lap 117, 43 circuits shy of the 160 scheduled laps.
· Qualifying for the July race has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Daytona International Speedway three times: 2007, 2009, and 2010.
· Four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series active drivers have made their first career start at Daytona International Speedway, though none were during the July race: Tony Stewart (2/14/99), Casey Mears (2/16/03), Kasey Kahne (2/15/04), and Danica Patrick (2/27/12).
· Six active drivers have posted their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at Daytona International Speedway: Greg Biffle (2/15/04), Kevin Harvick (7/6/02), Jimmie Johnson (2/17/02), Paul Menard (7/5/08), Danica Patrick (2/24/13) and Austin Dillon (2/23/2014).
· Four active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at Daytona International Speedway; two were during the July race: Trevor Bayne (2/20/11), Greg Biffle (7/5/03), David Ragan (7/2/11) and Michael Waltrip (2/18/01).
· Tony Stewart leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Daytona with 665 laps led in 31 starts. Stewart also leads the series among active drivers in laps led in the July race at Daytona with 366; followed by Jeff Gordon with 316 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 243.
· Six female drivers have competed in the July event at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Danica Patrick, Janet Guthrie, Christine Beckers, Lella Lombardi, Patty Moise and Shawna Robinson. Below they are ordered by best finish:
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NASCAR in Florida
· There have been 175 NASCAR Sprint Cup races among eight tracks in the state of Florida.
· The first NASCAR premiere series race in the state of Florida was held at the Daytona Beach & Road Course in 7/10/1949. The 40 lap event was by won Red Byron (Oldsmobile, 80.883 mph).
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· 173 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Florida; 10 of the 173 (5.7%) have recorded at least one victory in NASCAR national series competition.
· Of the seven Florida native drivers who have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, only Fireball Roberts and LeeRoy Yarborough have won the July race at Daytona International Speedway.
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Sato sixth different winner to start 2017, a first in 17 years

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INDIANAPOLIS – Takuma Sato’s win in Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was a surprise but popular victory. It was also a statistically significant one.

With the win, Sato is the sixth different winner in as many races to kick off the Verizon IndyCar Series season, which is something that hasn’t happened in North American top-level open-wheel racing since the year 2000.

He joins Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power as the first six race winners of the year.

In 2000, both the CART FedEx Championship Series and Indy Racing League went the first seven races into that season with as many winners, before a repeat winner happened.

And in both cases, the driver who won their second race of the year went onto win the championship.

Here’s the recaps:

  • 2000, CART: Max Papis (Miami), Paul Tracy (Long Beach), Adrian Fernandez (Rio, Brazil), Michael Andretti (Motegi, Japan), Gil de Ferran (Nazareth), Juan Pablo Montoya (Milwaukee), Helio Castroneves (Detroit) made it seven-for-seven, with Papis and Castroneves winning their first career races (Castroneves’ win happened June 18, 2000). De Ferran won Round 8 at Portland on June 25 to become the first repeat winner. Roberto Moreno, Cristiano da Matta, Jimmy Vasser and Christian Fittipaldi also won that year to make 11 race winners. Nearly 10 drivers were in title contention down to the final two races of the year, before de Ferran edged Fernandez, Moreno and Brack for his first title.
  • 2000, IRL: Robbie Buhl (Walt Disney World), Buddy Lazier (Phoenix), Al Unser Jr. (Las Vegas), Montoya (Indianapolis 500), Scott Sharp (Texas), Eddie Cheever Jr. (Pikes Peak), Greg Ray (Atlanta) made that seven-for-seven (Ray’s Atlanta win occurred July 15, 2000). Lazier won Round 8 at Kentucky on August 27 to become the first repeat winner. As Scott Goodyear won the season finale, it made it eight winners in nine races for the year.

In the 16 intervening years since, at least one driver has won two races within the first five or six races.

In recent years, only three times have there been five winners in five races, with the streak of first-race winners coming to an end in Round 6.

Had Dixon not beat Montoya on a tiebreak to the 2015 title, that streak of the driver being the first to win his second race also winning the title would have held true here.

  • 2015: 5 (Montoya, James Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Will Power), with Montoya the first repeat winner at Round 6, the Indy 500.
  • 2008: 5 (Dixon, Graham Rahal, Danica Patrick, Power, Dan Wheldon), with Dixon the first repeat winner at Round 6, the Indy 500.
  • 2003: 5 (Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Scott Sharp, de Ferran, Unser Jr.), with Dixon the first repeat winner at Round 6, Pikes Peak.

With 11 races to go, and with only five more winners needed to match, IndyCar can start to think about tying or eclipsing its all-time mark of 11 different winners in a season (which happened back-to-back in those 2000 and 2001 CART seasons).

Rounds 7 and 8 occur at Detroit this weekend for the 2017 IndyCar season. If one of the five drivers who will be entered (assuming Dixon will be good to go; Bourdais is out) can win his second race this season, look for that to make a big impact on the championship as the year goes on.

DiZinno: Sato wins an Indy 500 for Japan, tenacity, and the ‘nice guy’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Between winning with a team that’s quickly becoming one of the all-time greats at Indianapolis, fulfilling the hopes and dreams of a nation and writing his own personal redemption story, Takuma Sato entered into history on Sunday as one of the Indianapolis 500’s nicest, most tenacious and popular victors.

Sato tactfully, carefully flew under-the-radar all month as the perceived “fourth” of four Andretti Autosport full-season entries in the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, even lower once you added in the star power of the McLaren, Honda and Andretti entry for two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in the same team.

And he flew under-the-radar within Honda’s 18-car entry into the race, yet as a driver who’s been supported by them his entire career in both Formula 1 and IndyCar since 2002.

ON-TRACK SUCCESS THIS MONTH

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28:  Fernando Alonso of Spain, driver of the #29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda, waves during driver introductions alongside Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, ahead of the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Moto Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images).

After a month where Sato was a top-five or top-10 regular, the 40-year-old raised some eyebrows and some volume in the media center when he almost crashed twice on his Sunday qualifying run with a short track, dirt track-esque “slide job” off Turn 2. It was a sign of greater things to come.

Then in the race, the patient, calmer Sato that’s been present more often in 2017 through the first five races bided his time until it was “go time” in the final stint of the race, and the “no attack, no chance” style that has defined Sato’s career on the whole came back in the best way possible, as he beat Helio Castroneves in a straight fight for the victory.

“The entire month with my teammates saw us working extremely seamlessly well through the practice day, fantastic qualifying, and to a very strong start,” Sato said Sunday, praising his teammates. “At one stage I lost momentum, and it goes down to like P10. But I just get down in my job, believe in the car, and push in the pit stops.

“When the opportunity comes, I have to give 100 percent commitment. I knew I could do it. But just, you know, waiting for that moment. The last few laps, they were the moment.”

In tandem with engineer Garrett Mothershead, who he’d worked with previously at KV, Sato was determined to start higher so he wouldn’t need to fight through the field too much on race day. Sato has traditionally started 10th or worse at Indianapolis and until Sunday, hadn’t finished higher than 13th, which he did on two occasions.

Mothershead’s voice was struggling to be much above a whisper on Monday and for good reason – he’d almost lost it Sunday screaming after finally securing his own first ‘500 win after coming up short with Carlos Munoz last year.

“My voice is shot, which is the result of an urge to uncontrollably go, ‘woo!’ he laughed on Monday morning.

“Takuma knows so much more now. Back then (at KV) he was a rookie and he didn’t know the tracks or the style of racing.

“For us, winning three of four as a team is incredible and a testament to our organization and preparation. But breaking through here as a winner is special!”

From fourth on the grid, Sato delivered what was frequently a calmer drive, until he needed to unleash his inner beast.

Sato dropped to seventh from fourth on Lap 1 but stayed in the top 10 from there, entering the lead for the first time on Lap 65 passing Rossi before a caution flew for Conor Daly’s accident in Turn 3.

It took until Lap 84, a restart after the third caution of the race, for Sato to drop from the top-10 for the first time. Sato fell as low as 17th in this stint but was back to 10th by Lap 105.

On the pivotal caution that occurred when Charlie Kimball’s engine failed, Sato joined most of the field in making their final stops. He came out in fifth place overall, third among those that pitted, which set the stage for his amazing final 30 laps.

A two-in-one outside pass of Castroneves and Ed Jones into Turn 1 on Lap 179, a lap before Alonso’s engine blew, was the typical “DID YOU SEE THAT?!?” moment of brilliance we’ve come to expect from Sato over the years. The caution that followed almost meant Sato was in the catbird’s seat, sitting ahead of Castroneves and only with Max Chilton – untested in that situation – to get around.

“When he went into Turn 1, I just sort of close my eyes half the time,” his strategist, Paul “Ziggy” Harcus, joked. “I’m afraid. I keep thinking, ‘Are we going to make it?’ But it’s great driving. I think he did a great job today of keeping his head about him and racing up the front.”

Sato’s new team boss, Michael Andretti, also was left in awe as Sato completed the pass.

“There was one move where he passed two cars on the outside in one, which was a very important move, because that gave him the track position of the top two guys in front of him,” Andretti said. “That was one of the moves of the race, in my opinion. When I saw that, I’m like, ‘Whoa, I think we’re going to win this thing.’ He didn’t let us down. He drove very, very well.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, races ahead of Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, on his way toward winning the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Sato was briefly eclipsed by Castroneves for position, but wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip away. He got back by on the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 195 in the ultimate winning move of the race. And with enough of a power advantage from there, Castroneves wasn’t able to come back to him.

“I know Helio is always come on charge. But he’s just such a gentleman with such a fair player. I believe him. We go side-by-side turn one… It was job done,” Sato said.

A POPULAR WIN FOR THE PADDOCK

The win stirred the soul for many in the IndyCar paddock, happy for one of the series’ most genuine and nicest guys, if one whose undoubted speed and promise in eight years and more than 100 starts has been consistently blighted by inconsistency. His only other win came with A.J. Foyt Racing at Long Beach in 2013, that in itself snapping an 11-year drought for Foyt since its last win in 2002.

Members from Sato’s old team visited him in victory lane – Foyt included – to wish him congratulations on the win.

His teammates were happy that he brought Michael Andretti his fifth win in the race, which now moves him ahead of Chip Ganassi (four) for second among active owners, trailing only Roger Penske’s seemingly unassailable 16. It didn’t fully alleviate the pain of Alonso and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engine failures, nor Alexander Rossi’s fueling issue, but it helped.

“That’s why we had six bullets in the gun, right? Luckily one came through,” Andretti said.

Honda was particularly pleased. A driver that has been in their camp nearly two decades delivered the win for both cultures, the Honda of Japan and Honda of America (via Honda Performance Development), and atoned for a day when reliability woes were set to define its story.

“The one thing is one goal for the winning. It’s the Honda DNA, and that comes from, of course, Mr. Soichiro Honda, and that’s the way Honda Japan, American Honda, it really doesn’t matter,” Sato explained.

“Honda wanted to push absolute on the limit. I can see both ways very, very similar, not only for the Honda globally, but very specifically like HPD here, it is the same philosophy. As Honda, it is just one aim: it is winning, so I can see both ways.”

In talking to senior HPD officials Monday morning, it was strongly hinted that Honda determined to run its engines at max capacity, reducing rumors they’d plan to “turn the engines down” in order to save the reliability.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 27: Dario Franchitti (L) of Scotland, driver of the #50 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, races against Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, races during the IZOD IndyCar Series 96th running of the Indianpolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The win, of course, provided the redemption tale for Sato’s famous – or infamous – 2012 near-miss. That final lap lunge attempting to pass Dario Franchitti – Franchitti having delivered a bit of gamesmanship to leave just enough of a lane to coax Sato into going for it and making a mistake – stood in mind heading into this year’s race, as this year was always going to mark Sato’s best chance to win since. He reflected on that in a piece for Motorsport.com earlier this month, and then said it’s ancient history on Sunday afternoon.

“I do feel after 2012 I really needed to correct something I left over. Today I was so happy that I made it and won in a good move. I have to thank to Michael for that,” he said.

WHAT THIS MEANT FOR JAPAN

What was the happiest of takeaways for this happy driver – who didn’t look tired despite less than three hours of sleep and more than 30 interviews in the wake of winning Sunday afternoon through to his Monday morning media availability after two hours of photo taking – was what this win meant to his country, and his countrymen.

There’s a small but dedicated contingent of Japanese reporters and photographers who cover the full IndyCar series and make frequent commutes back and forth to Japan along the way. They’re the voices and people that tell Sato’s story to that nation, one which was rocked by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake and one where Sato, via the “With You Japan” campaign, has been an active philanthropist.

Seeing their excitement as well as listening to the excitement of the Japanese TV feed was a sign of pure joy, and one Sato expanded upon in both his Sunday and Monday press conferences.

“There was a Japan program really started in 2011, immediately after the earthquake happened, and all the intention was helping the children from the devastated area,” Sato explained. “It’s a difficult life for them, lost friends and family, and lost home. As I repeat, 250,000 people still living in temporary houses today, so it’s suffering a lot. It is on the recovery, but it’s a long way.

“So I couldn’t put a big donation, but I can bring some energy through the motor racing, so always I invite 100, 150 kids from the devastated area, and we do a go-karting event in the last few years, and that’s spreading all over Japan now, and there is a few places to help, and we did some tournament system, and then end of the year last year in Suzuka, we had a great race, so it’s combined all Japan as well as devastated areas.

“It’s been — it’s great. I think it’s great support, everyone, and as long as I could do, I wanted to keep supporting the children until they become adults, and hopefully one of them becomes a professional race driver.”

Sato might be 40 years old now, but he doesn’t look the part, and now revitalized, the next step from here is taking the success he’s achieved at Indianapolis and translating in for the rest of the season. He now sits tied for second in points with the last two series champions, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, 11 back of Castroneves (245-234).

“Age is something for the athlete. Age 40 is something you have to consider how you going to perform well. I think we proved Helio still up there, me up there, T.K. (Tony Kanaan) up there. We train really hard to maintain it,” Sato said.

“There’s always just heart and the mental, the mental strength. You can keep on going. Someday I will have to retire, but now, I have a more competitive race I want to do.

“Yeah, it’s such a privilege to win here. So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn’t really matter. You winning today. It’s just superb. Just coming onto the top, nothing else.

“I’m so looking forward, particularly now, in championship standings, my standing is very high now, and certainly it is the real challenge for the championship. That’s the most exciting thing for my life right now. Let’s try and give it everything.”

And he’ll do so while smiling.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Takuma Sato of Japan, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, celebrates after winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Harding Racing shines among new teams at Indy 500

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A trio of new teams (Harding Racing, Juncos Racing, and Michael Shank Racing, in a joint effort with Andretti Autosport) debuted at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Expectations for such outfits are usually humble and rarely do outsiders, or even insiders, predict such efforts to run up front.

And yet, at the checkered flag, one of those teams emerged in ninth place, a top-10 finish in its IndyCar debut.

Harding Racing’s No. 88 Chevrolet, in the hands of Gabby Chaves, had never run a race before, let alone an IndyCar race, and let alone an Indianapolis 500. However, they survived the carnage and chaos that defined the day to finish in the top-10, dramatically exceeding expectations.

Chaves was competing in his third “500,” two years after winning rookie-of-the-year honors with a 16th place for Bryan Herta Autosport. He labeled this race as mission: accomplished.

“I think we did our job. We took the race one lap at a time. We let the track and the conditions come to us and we dialed in the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet car every stop,” Chaves said. “We had a heck of a stint there. I think we were one of the only cars being able to make moves out there and got into a solid top ten for our first go as a team.”

Fellow debutante Juncos Racing, too, excelled in their own right. While their runs to 15th (Sebastian Saavedra) and 18th (Spencer Pigot) were unspectacular, the reality is that both cars made it to the finish, with Saavedra finishing on the lead lap, a noteworthy performance for a team making its first IndyCar start.

Sebastian Saavedra brought home a lead lap finish for Indy 500 debutantes Juncos Racing. Photo: IndyCar

Saavedra, like Chaves, said the team accomplished everything it wanted to. “We accomplished the mission we started less than two months ago,” he asserted. “To finish this first Indy 500 with both cars intact is a victory of its own. I’m very proud of the whole organization for putting in such a professional effort. It was rough out there. We were not as competitive as we wanted, but hey, that’s something that is expected your first time out.”

Teammate Spencer Pigot endured a more difficult race in his No. 11 Chevrolet, which the team scrambled to repair ahead of qualifying after a practice crash. As Pigot described, something was still off with the car (he was nearly lapped at the end of the opening stint) and he and the team were fighting it the entire day.

“I think there’s still something I’m missing or something’s gone away with the car since the (practice) crash. It never really felt right and it was just very difficult to drive, but we fought through a tough day. We didn’t give up. The guys kept working hard and I can’t thank them enough for the recovery and for putting this all together,” Pigot detailed.

Michael Shank Racing, the third team making its Verizon IndyCar Series debut, endured the most challenging race of the three new teams. For them, it was a race that concluded a difficult month riddled with problems, which began with a foreboding and bizarre steering failure that resulted in wall contact during opening day practice for driver Jack Harvey.

Harvey and Michael Shank’s No. 50 Honda team were enjoying a solid race until Conor Daly’s lap 65 crash in Turn 3. Harvey hit debris from the accident and spun into the inside wall between Turns 3 and 4. It ended a difficult month for a driver and team who truly made a herculean effort to field an entry.

Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing endured a month filled with challenges. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s a super disappointing day because we worked so hard to get here so to have the day end like this is heartbreaking,” Harvey lamented afterward. “Everyone is trying to slow down so quickly and trying to then dodge the debris. I was slowing down and trying to avoid everything so I don’t know what else I could have done at that point.”

Still, Harvey was enthusiastic to simply have a chance to compete. “This was still the best experience I’ve ever had,” he asserted. “The Indianapolis 500 represents so much in the state of Indiana and to the racing world, but it just didn’t go the right way for us today.”

Of those three, Harding Racing is the only one scheduled to run more IndyCar races this year. They will return for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10 and the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway on August 20.

Juncos Racing will continue with its efforts in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, where it has drivers currently atop the championships in both Indy Lights (Kyle Kaiser) and Pro Mazda (Victor Franzoni).

Michael Shank Racing will continue its Acura NSX GT3 program in the GTD class of WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, resuming next weekend at Detroit.

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Karam: ‘Tough luck stops a great month for DRR, Mecum Chevy’

Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus driver in IMSA, a past Indy Lights and USF2000 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series podium finisher, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month for a second straight year (2016 archive here).

Here’s his fifth and final entry, as he recaps Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, where an alternator problem forced him into an early retirement.

You can read his firstsecondthird and fourth blogs of 2017 here. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in partnership with Kingdom Racing. 

Hi again, it’s Sage Karam after the running of the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Well, the race didn’t go as we wanted Sunday at the greatest race track in the world.

I was hoping to get to the finish but our No. 24 Mecum Auctions DRR Chevy had an alternator let go and the engine just stopped on lap 125. Not much I or the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team can do much about that. Just some tough luck.

This was my fourth Indy 500 and I was still the youngest driver in the field at age 22. But I felt so much calmer and not as anxious as in previous years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the biggest race in the world and every driver is anxious for the start.

Karam with Jake Gyllenhaal (to his right). Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

But I felt we would be more calculated with our strategy and my decision-making early in the race. And that is what happened for me. I wasn’t going to put myself in a bad spot in the early portions of the race. I was more conservative than I had ever been in the 500.

Unfortunately, things started off a little rough for us when we had a radio problem. I could hear the pit box and the spotters in the corners but they couldn’t hear me. So, we had to work on a code to communicate with each other on the fly. Just keying up the radio for yes or no and turning fuel mixture switch for more wing, less wing, rear wing and front wing. It was kind of sketchy out there but we were doing okay. We were running inside the top 15 and the top 10 shortly but something was killing the battery in the car and killed the radio.

So, an electrical gremlin put us out of this one. The car was really good all month. It’s a shame – the DRR boys, Mecum Auto Auctions put together a great car this month. It’s tough to see it go down like that. But that’s racing. The beauty of this place is it makes you want to come back more and more because you go through all these hard times. You just want to win. So, after I get back to the DRR garage, I was cheering on Fernando Alonso because I’m a big fan of his. But he had trouble too.

With the alternator letting go, there is nothing we can do. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens here. These times are tough, but it’ll make the triumph much better in the future. I thought we ran a smart race.

A lot of people were doing risky things out there. I backed out of about four or five situations that could have caused a big crash. My plan was to get into the top-10 by lap 150 or so. We were moving up the field and the race car was good.

To be honest, we didn’t have the straightaway speed. I used hand signals during the yellow flag period to try to explain to the crew what I needed. I pointed to the back of the car to adjust the rear wing for my straight-line speed. I thought the race car was pretty good overall though. I could pass in several areas. But some of the guys were doing some wild moves.

I played it conservative around many of them. I’m not going to point out some of the them by name, but it was downright scary in certain places. I thought there were going to a bunch of big wrecks if that stuff continued.

Speaking of wrecks, I was so thrilled to see my friend Scott Dixon jump out his race car after that wild crash. Scott is one of the best drivers in IndyCar history and truly one of the nicest guys too. That was a scary wild for Dixey. I will be so glad to talk with him at the Indy 500 Awards banquet. And was so happy that Sebastian Bourdais was back at the track for the race too. His crash was so nasty and it could have been a lot worse.

As a racing driver, you know you have risks. And then you see those crashes and how the safety equipment on the cars and at the tracks save people. I’m proud of the safety developments which have been made in our sport. And you see crashes like Scott and Seb’s and know those safety developments have made a big difference.

Well, I enjoyed this year’s Indy 500 experience and just wish it could have finished up better. But that’s racing. I’ll plan to be back again in 2018. Now, it’s off to the streets of Belle Isle for the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race, I’ll be racing in the Lexus sports car for 3GT Racing.

Thanks for reading my thoughts this month and we’ll plan to do it again next May.