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Indy 500 winner surprised to share his Baby Borg with his dog, Norman

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MOORESVILLE, North Carolina – When the wraps came off 103rdIndianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud’s “Baby Borg” Trophy that was presented to him at the Team Penske Breakfast on Monday, he was stunned to see two sculpted faces on the base of his trophy.

One of the faces was Pagenaud’s, an identical image that was unveiled on the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy in France on August 6. The second image belongs to his prized pup, Norman, a Jack Russell Terrier that is a constant companion with Pagenaud and his fiancée Hailey McDermott.

Team owner Roger Penske also received his Indianapolis 500 record-extending 18thBaby Borg Trophy Monday morning and quipped, that for 17 times he “never saw a dog in the winner’s circle.”

The 18thIndianapolis 500 victory for the team will be different, one that will be remembered for Pagenaud’s unbridled enthusiasm and for Norman’s bark after his “father” took a bite out of the Indy 500 field.

“Today, they surprised me with my likeness and Norman’s likeness and that is such a great and incredible gesture from BorgWarner,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports.com. “It’s the first time Will Behrends has sculpted a dog and he did a phenomenal job.

“It’s an incredible gift I will keep forever and remind me of the most incredible day of my life.”

Norman is easily the most famous dog in auto racing and helped celebrate Pagenaud’s Indy 500 win on May 26 in Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s great for Hailey and me to have these kinds of memories because Norman was part of this incredible day in our lives,” Pagenaud said. “It was the most incredible day of our lives and he will be part of our memories forever.

“Indy is special for its traditions and what Borg-Warner did for me today is very, very special.”

It’s been quite a weekend for Pagenaud, who was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since last Thursday attending the NASCAR Brickyard 400. It was the first time he had been back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“Just flying over the Speedway was special because things have changed,” Pagenaud said. “I can’t walk into a restaurant without being recognized now. I get introduced as the 2019 Indy 500 champion.

“It’s great to feel at home. It’s great to feel part of a very restricted club. It’s great to feel relevant in your sport and that you will be remembered. I don’t want to feel pretentious but it’s great to feel like you have done something special in your sport.”

Pagenaud said the response he got over the weekend from the NASCAR community was “phenomenal.”

“Joe Gibbs came over and talked to me and I have always looked at Joe Gibbs as a Super Bowl winner and great NASCAR team owner, with much success,” Pagenaud said. “I had a lot of other drivers that I saw. It’s great to feel part of it as a champion.

“Indianapolis is the capital of racing and the center of racing.

“Now, I’m pretty excited about Laguna Seca coming up with the NTT IndyCar Series championship.”

Pagenaud, the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series Champion, is third in the standings, 42 points behind Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and one point behind Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi heading into the September 22 double-points season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

Monday was also important for Pagenaud because unlike past years when the Baby Borg Trophies were presented at a dinner before the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, he got to share this with the team.

“Getting the Baby Borg trophy today was overwhelming in terms of emotion, especially here at the Team Penske employee breakfast,” Pagenaud said. “Five-hundred-and-fifty Team Penske employees were here, enjoying the moment, with me, was even more special.

“Incredible things have happened for me by taking the ‘Daddy Borg’ to France, being able to share that with my home country and educate IndyCar was incredible.

“I don’t think it’s over; it’s just the beginning. It’s phenomenal to see BorgWarner’s support for the Indianapolis 500 winner is outstanding. They keep giving you gifts and making you feel special.”

Pagenaud has posed with the Borg-Warner Trophy in Victory Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the trophy accompanied him to the White House when the team was honored by President Donald Trump on June 10 and most recently went to his native France.

The Borg-Warner Trophy has returned to its permanent home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The Baby Borg, however, is the one Pagenaud gets to keep.

“That’s another amazing gesture of BorgWarner to allow the winner to have a memory of it,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a beautiful piece and with the base it goes well together. It’s going to be dead center in the middle of all of my other trophies.

“It is the most valuable personally and emotionally and for the dream that I have had since I was a little kid to get to this point is my goal. Like I said this morning, I’m living my dream life.

“I’m going to make sure it has the best spot in the house.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”