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 of a second 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 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 towards Ferrucci’s final-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 Kannan], 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.