Everyone worried about a Kenseth win — except Matt himself

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INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be concerned Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race thus far in 2014 – everyone, that is, except Kenseth himself.

Sure, he led the Sprint Cup Series with seven wins last season, but Kenseth has yet to reach victory lane in the first 19 races of this season.

But given where he’s at in the Sprint Cup points (fourth), Kenseth is pretty much a lock to make the expanded 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field when it’s finalized seven races from now after the Richmond event.

If you go by the alternative pre-Chase rankings that are based solely on wins, Kenseth is 12th, the highest-ranked driver without any wins. With seven races left to qualify for the Chase, it’s unlikely we’ll see seven more drivers earn their first win of 2014, leaving Kenseth fairly safe to make the Chase.

But at the same time, Kenseth isn’t going to rely on possibilities and hypotheticals. He’s hoping to kill two birds with one stone on Sunday: win his first race of 2014 and his first win in the Brickyard 400.

“Well, all of the above, I guess,” Kenseth said during a press conference after being fastest in the only practice session held on Friday.

Kenseth has a decent record at Indy: In 14 career starts, while he hasn’t won yet, he does have six top-five and two other top-10 finishes. His best finish to date has been second (in both 2003 and 2006).

Kenseth also is coming off a strong fifth-place run at Indy in last year’s Brickyard.

“I’ve always felt like (Indy) has been one of our race tracks, but you really don’t know until you get there and you get into the race, even through practice,” Kenseth said. “Even last year, we had an incredible year and we ran so good at so many places I’ve never ran good at before, but then we went to Indy and we finished well, but we really didn’t run well last year compared to how we ran everywhere else.

“… Obviously expectations are high and when you’re sitting here almost in August and don’t have a win yet, you always get asked about that, especially with this new system and all that. The year really hasn’t been a bad year, we’ve had a bad month there where I wrecked it two or three times and had some other things happen, but we just have been as an organization lacking a little bit of speed. I feel like we’re gaining on that and feel like we’re getting closer.

“Overall, I feel like from a team perspective and execution and all that stuff, we’re probably better than what it was last year. As soon as we get the speed to go with it and have some things to go our way, it’s possible to get on a roll.”

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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.”