Sato wins as Newgarden spins in exciting Bommarito 500 finish

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One week after being blamed by many of his peers as the cause of a multi-car accident at Pocono Raceway, Takuma Sato redeemed himself Saturday evening by winning the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.

Sato narrowly held off a hard-charging Ed Carpenter in the closing laps to win by a slim margin of 0.0339 seconds for his second victory of the season. The finish was the closest in race history.

“The team made this happen,” Sato told NBC Sports following his victory. “The last couple of days, it was tough. But we kept going, did our job, and obviously today we were a little lucky in terms of strategy but we were fast throughout this week.”

After falling to the back of the pack early on in the race, Sato slowly made his way through the field. As the race began to wind down, Sato, running on a different pit strategy than the leaders, took the lead on lap 188 when the leaders pitted, and would maintain his lead through the checkered flag following his final pit stop.

The unusual pit strategy didn’t just pay off for Sato and Carpenter, though. Tony Kanaan was also able to hold on for a third-place finish, his first podium since Detroit race 2 in 2015.

But Sato’s victory and surprising podium would not be the only story line following the race. Just as Sato took the checkered flag, the attention quickly turned to series point leader Josef Newgarden, who spun in the final corner after attempting to avoid contact with Santino Ferrucci.

Ferrucci got loose in the marbles high in Turn 3 and dived down into the racing line, almost making contact with Newgarden, who ran into the inside grass in an attempt not to hit the rookie. Ferrucci ended up finishing fourth, but Newgarden struggled to get his car into gear and slowly meandered over the finish line, finishing the race in the seventh position.

Following the race, Newgarden expressed his displeasure with Ferrucci’s last-lap move.

“It’s important to know that he’s a rookie,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “What he did was, in my opinion, dangerous.

“He came directly back down to the racing line to try and block at the end, which [there] was no reason to. I gave him the position twice because I was suffering with vibrations all night and my car was getting quite difficult to drive at the end of that stint, so I let him go two times during the night.

“He’s got to learn that this is big-time auto racing. If you do a move like that on an oval, you will cause a very serious wreck.”

Both Newgarden and Ferrucci would speak to each other following the finish, and Ferrucci would have an opportunity to respond to Newgarden’s criticism.

“At the end there, I was really trying to get T.K. [Tony Kanaan], and I lost the car,” Ferrucci said. “I wanted to get out of the marbles, and I did close the line there a little bit too much but obviously we’re fighting for two different championships and at the end of the day, I did what I had to do and save the car.

“Unfortunately, he got the worst of it, but he still finished the race and he picked up some good championship points.”

Indeed, Newgarden would extend his lead in the standings, and he now holds a 38-point lead over teammate Simon Pagenaud, who finished fifth in the race.

Alexander Rossi fell to third in the standings following a disappointing 13th-place finish, but still remains in the championship hunt, 46 points back.

But the four-car championship race has essentially turned into a three-car race, as Scott Dixon took his car into the garage early on in the race due to a radiator puncture. Dixon would briefly return to the track later in the race, but would eventually retire from the race and have to settle for a disappointing finish in the 20th position.

Other notables to retire from the race included Will Power, Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Bourdais, all of whom made contact with the Turn 4 wall.

The NTT IndyCar Series now heads to the Pacific Northwest for the penultimate round of the 2019 season at Portland International Raceway. Live coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland begins Sunday, September 1 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Click here for full race results

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New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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