Sato podium MP

Sato podium MPSebastien Bourdais wasn't exactly sure how he was regarded by his fellow drivers until he survived a hellacious crash during qualifying. Known for being prickly at times, the Frenchman soon learned the respect he'd earned as a champion driver and as an unflinching advocate for driver safety had resonated throughout the field. It was made clear by the endless stream of visitors to his hospital bed, and later, to his rehabilitation facility.

Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi were first on the scene, then Tony Kanaan, and from there, it was a blur as almost the entire field of 33 stopped in to pay their respect and show support.

Takuma Sato went through the same respect-based reality check on his cool-down lap and slow drive into the Indy 500's Victory Lane on Sunday. Fans cheered with great heart and enthusiasm. Teams applauded and gave a hundred thumbs up. And like Bourdais, drivers – the ones he just beat on IndyCar's most important day of the year – streamed in to share their love and sense of community for Sato's career-defining result.

TK congratulates Sato

"Yes, I think that really showed ... talk about what IndyCar is like," he said with that patented, infectious smile. "It is extremely, extremely tight competition out there on track, but you can see we care each other because that's [what it's] all about in sport, and not only for the racing.

"I know everybody is working on it by their own program, and things happen like [with] Sebastien, and we are heavily concerned with [Scott] Dixon's accident yesterday, and it was such a relief he got out of the car, and we all think about Sebastien has a speedy recovery. It's a great union, I think, so everybody cares."

With his persona as IndyCar's Mr. Bean set aside for now, Sato's heartfelt reaction to winning the Indy 500 and all the admiration that's followed has been like a second victory for the Japanese veteran.

And when his former team owner A.J. Foyt turned up to say nice things Sunday afternoon, he knew something special had taken place.

"It was nice to see everyone really cheering on me and congrats to me yesterday, including a lot of team owners, and including A.J.," he said. "That is very nice. I feel very, very lucky. I feel really, really appreciated."

Andretti drivers geoff millerA surprising state of achievement was realized on Sunday with Takuma Sato's remarkable Indy 500 win. As the Japanese driver basked in the glory he'd rightfully earned, his Andretti Autosport team also took a moment to reflect how truly competitive the program had become in such a short period.

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It was Sato who drove into Victory Lane, but it just as easily could have been Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi or Fernando Alonso. At certain points in the 200-lap contest, Andretti cars ran 1-2-3 as the Honda-powered team demonstrated its might.

The expansive collective, pushed by veteran Andretti COO JF Thormann, rebuilt under the watchful eye of general manager Rob Edwards, and reshaped on the engineering front by technical director Eric Bretzman, has taken back-to-back Indy 500 wins, with the most recent coming while an internal revolution was in progress.

"I think the good thing coming from last year's race is we saw some things that could be improved," Edwards told RACER. "A lot of that started with getting Eric Bretzman on board as technical director who could lift the entire program up across all cars. That was the goal in the last 12 months, and I think yesterdays showed we've achieved that. It's about putting people in the right places."

From Edwards' perspective, seeing the unified strength of the Andretti unit on display Sunday was immensely satisfying.

"It's a long race, a lot of things happen, so the best thing to have is a bunch of cars there that are capable of winning," he said. "Ryan was quick, Alexander was quick, Fernando was quick, and any of them could have won, and Takuma was also there with them, running strong, and was in a position to win. It's true teamwork. And overnight, we've already done lists on how we're going to improve to better again next year."

Andretti Autosport 500 lepage

Andretti drivers led 95 laps – nearly half – during the 101st Indy 500. Beyond cars and engines and all of the technical aspects to consider, Edwards says the bond formed between the Alonso, Marco Andretti, Jack Harvey, Hunter-Reay, Rossi and Sato teams is what truly made the difference.

"It's all about building a team philosophy, which is difficult in such an individual sport," he said. "But it's a team sport, all the people in the pits working together. I think the biggest story of the whole month, which we couldn't show, was the group meetings in the engineering office. All the drivers, all the engineers, coming together every night, every morning, to talk about what they'd learned, what they planned to do, and sharing everything equally.

"Drivers were asking each other questions; I think Fernando was the catalyst for that as someone new coming in. Because all six drivers were working all day, we were there throughout the race and there when it counted in the end."

Hamlin Busch 600 latThere is light at the end of the tunnel for Joe Gibbs Racing.

After a sluggish start to the season in the speed department, Gibbs had its best race to date in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, ironically the season's longest and most grueling race.

All four Gibbs cars finished in the top 11. All four ran inside the top 10 throughout portions of the night. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin also led laps, a combined 73.

"Yeah, I would guess so," said second-place finisher Busch when asked if the organization now has the speed they were once lacking. "I mean you finish second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh, tenth – 11th, whatever the hell it is. Yeah."

But considering Charlotte is a 1.5-mile track, which is what makes up a majority of the NASCAR schedule, success in the sport's backyard can go a long way. Charlotte also marks the fifth 1.5-mile track in the first 12 races and is a good time to re-evaluate an organization's situation.

Of course, some are taking Sunday night's performance with a grain of salt.

"All our Camrys were faster this weekend than what we've been as a group, we've been a little bit scattered," Matt Kenseth said after finishing fourth. "Our speed is better and we still have some work to do, especially with my car, to get it driving better.

gibbs cars charlotte

"I still can't run with the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) and the 18 (Busch) if they're out in front of me, they're still better than us. We still have some work to do, but we do have more speed and that's encouraging."

As has become common in the series over the last year, Truex still carries the banner when it comes to raw speed on the larger tracks. A satellite team of Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex dominated the race by leading 233 of 400 laps. Plus, he's also won twice already this season – something none of the four Gibbs drivers has yet to do.

But Sunday night, walking down pit road after the checkered flag it seemed clear they were getting closer. Mostly because three of the Gibbs cars parked nose-to-tail in the designated area for finishers 2-5 doesn't go unnoticed. It was just the second time this year multiple Gibbs cars have finished in the top 10 in a 1.5-mile race.

To break it down: Busch was the lone top 10 in Atlanta; Hamlin was the lone top 10 at Las Vegas; none of the Gibbs cars finished in the top 10 at Texas; and both Busch and rookie Daniel Suarez finished in the top 10 at Kansas two weeks ago.

So seeing all four cars on equal footing at Charlotte has to be a much-needed shot in the arm for Gibbs. However, Denny Hamlin felt he had a car better than fifth place where they finished, but a bad restart with 70 laps to go set him behind. But he had to agree the company has gained speed.

"I think our setups are getting better and that for sure is helping us," Hamlin said. "We still got, I feel like, some room to get better but obviously today was a pretty solid day for the company and all the Toyotas looked like they ran pretty well. Optimistic we're working in the right direction, we'll just slowly but surely get there."

And they will if they just follow the light.

Sato flag lepageTakuma Sato isn't just the elder statesman among Japanese IndyCar drivers, he's the only Asian driver left in the field. The 40-year-old, now an Indy 500 winner, would love to see his victory serve as an inspiration for more of his countrymen to choose the American open-wheel scene in the years ahead.

"I certainly hope so," he said Monday morning, coming off four hours of sleep. "I want to see the new generation. I mean, as long as I can drive, I want to teach them, of course, but beat me and come up and then get even better. I think that there is a lot of potential young Japanese drivers out there, and there is a few of them in Europe.

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Unfortunately we haven't really seen the up-and-coming young Japanese drivers in the States. But after this result, I'm sure there's many, many drivers who wanted to achieve [an Indy 500 win]."

Using the financial support of Honda or Toyota, it was commonplace to have a few Japanese drivers racing in CART, Champ Car or the IndyCar Series in the 2000s, but that practice has come to an end in its widescale form. Although Honda plays a key role in Sato's ongoing place within IndyCar, the Tokyo native hopes a renewed effort to groom Japanese talent – starting with the Mazda Road To Indy ladder system – will come from his Indy 500 achievement.

"Here in the States, there is a great pyramid and scholarship system from Indy Lights [to] IndyCar," he said. "There's always great opportunity, and Honda is committed for this series, and I'm here to help anything."

SNE16663Lewis Hamilton is convinced Ferrari has decided to back Sebastian Vettel in the drivers' championship battle but says he doesn't want Mercedes to do something similar.

Vettel started second to teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the Monaco Grand Prix but benefited from a favorable strategy to jump the Finn in the pit stops and secure his third victory of the season. The result extends Vettel's lead over Hamilton – who recovered from 13th on the grid to finish seventh – to 25 points and the triple world champion admits it is a big gap to close.

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"Well, it's definitely not going to be easy," Hamilton said. "It's clear to me that Ferrari have chosen their number one driver, so they're pushing everything to make sure Sebastian is maximized on all of his weekends. In strategy, that doesn't happen. The leading car, is very hard for him to get jumped unless the team decide to favor the other car, so it's great for him.

"We've definitely got to improve in understanding the car and do a better job. I am going to the factory this week. We are under no illusion that we are not perfect and have still go areas to improve on. We still believe we can win this thing. 25 points is a long way away – it's hard to get just six points. Bit by bit we will try and chip away."

With Valtteri Bottas finishing fourth in Monaco to close to within 29 points of his teammate – compared to a gap of 62 points between the Ferrari drivers – Hamilton says he won't ask Mercedes to prioritize his own title challenge.

"No, I haven't spoken to the team [about that] and I don't really plan to. I've never really been in the situation.... I mean, Valtteri is doing a great job. I don't currently feel that we have to have a number one. I think it's really important now that we collectively work as a team more than ever before, as we have been. Both of our work has collectively [been] in the battle to beat Ferrari in the constructors'.

"There might be some things along the way that position-wise, at some stage, might become valuable, but who knows what is going to happen. I might be in the way, I might need to give Valtteri that upper hand. I really have no idea. We just have to make sure we are ahead of them so we don't have to be in that same scenario that they were in [on Sunday]."

sato arms up IMS photo His creed has always been "no attack, no chance," but too often in his roller-coaster career it's been too much attack and end up in wall. His nickname could be "I'm Sorry."

So when Helio Castroneves drafted past Takuma Sato for the lead with six laps left in Sunday's 101st Indianapolis 500, you knew one of two things was going to happen: Either he was going to reclaim the top spot with a ballsy pass or he was going to crash trying.

The same scenario unfolded in 2012 when Sato tried to pass Dario Franchitti for the win on the last lap and wound up hitting the wall in Turn 1.

But on Sunday this diminutive daredevil from Tokyo made the biggest and best move of his life – an outside pass going into Turn 1 on Lap 195 that brought the crowd to its feet, restored a pulse to Honda's engineers and exorcised years' worth of demons for Sato.

Sato sets up Levitt LAT

He captured the 101st Indianapolis 500 in swashbuckling style and got to say his favorite line on the cool-off lap: "Job done."

Sato's smile said it all in Victory Lane. At age 40, driving for his fourth different team in eight years, he'd scored the biggest win of his life and the biggest ever for a Japanese driver.

"It's such a privilege to win here, whether it was your first or eighth time here or whether you had drama in the past, it really doesn't matter," he said. "Winning today is all that matters and it's just an incredible feeling.

16C 1961 1 2

"Today I was so happy that I made it and won with a good move."

Michael Andretti, who traded outside passes for the lead in Turn 1 with Rick Mears in 1991, watched Sato's winning move in awe and likely with one eye closed.

"When I was here they had the apron, the track was wider and it was easier," said Andretti, who led 431 laps but never won as a driver but now has five victories as a car owner.

"But Taku pulled it off and it was amazing. He drove so well today and I'm so proud of him."

In his inaugural season with A.J. Foyt in 2013, Sato looked like he'd finally smoothed out and was going to mesh that speed with results. He won at Long Beach, finished second in Brazil and was leading the points before free-falling to 17th in the final standings.

The past three years had been hits and misses, literally and figuratively, and it looked like the end of the road when A.J. switched to Chevrolet. But Honda came to the rescue and placed its national treasure with Andretti Autosport.

But after crashing in practice during the season opener at St. Pete it looked like same story, different year, although Andretti claims he wasn't thinking the worst.

"Bryan [Herta] and I sat down with Takuma after that and after that he qualified fifth and drove a good race (finishing fifth)," Andretti said.

"My impression has always been that he's a fast driver who's never really been on a great team and have the support we provide him. He's a good guy and he's technically savvy and he's fit right into this team."

Sato japanese flagThe coolest thing about Sato as a person is his likeability. He's unfailingly polite and always faces the music no matter how tough it's been some days. But what really rang true on Sunday as he drove into Victory Lane was the response he got from the crowd. They cheered his spirit and go-for-it mentality as much as the result.

"I love this place and not just because of winning," said Sato, who was on the F1 podium here in 2004. "The fans are so appreciative and I respect them. They give me great speed and confidence. It's a fantastic feeling."

He already had hero status in Japan with the fans and Honda of Japan, but he elevated his stature even more Sunday with American Honda and Honda Performance Development. Honda's drivers dominated the race, leading 184 of the first 195 laps as Andretti often ran 1-2-3 before Ryan Hunter-Reay and Fernando Alonso blew up.

It was crunch time and a three-time Indy 500 winner was suddenly leading with six laps to go over a driver that had always been fast and furious but not able to close the deal.

That's when Sato delivered. Job done.

 

Dillon LAMArmed with a new crew chief and a gas tank that held just enough fuel to get him to the end of 600 miles with less than a second to spare, Austin Dillon won the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series of his career and put the vaunted No. 3 Chevrolet back in Victory Lane for the first time since 2000.

Working for the first time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with crew chief Justin Alexander, Dillon was one of eight drivers who stayed on the track when the strongest cars in the Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — the Toyotas of eventual runner up Kyle Busch and third-place Martin Truex Jr. — came to pit road on Lap 368 of 400.

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Saving fuel for the entire run, Dillon trailed Jimmie Johnson, who also stayed out, until the seven-time champion ran out of gas with less than three laps left. With Busch and Truex in hot pursuit, Dillon had just enough fuel to get to the finish line.

The No. 3 Chevrolet owned by Dillon's grandfather, Richard Childress, returned to the winner's circle for the first time since the late Dale Earnhardt won his last race on Oct. 15, 2000 at Talladega. After Earnhardt's death in the 2001 Daytona 500, Childress retired the number in NASCAR's premier series until Dillon ran his first full season of Monster Energy Series racing in 2014.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," Dillon said in Victory Lane. "I can't believe it. I was just really focused on those last laps. My fiancé wrote in the car, 'When you keep God in first place, he will take you places you never imagined.'

"And, I never imagined I be here at the 600 Victory Lane. Praise the Lord and all these guys who work so hard; and my pit crew is the best on pit road. I love it for them. We're in the playoffs. It's awesome."

dillon slide thacker

Dillon, who led only the final two laps, had to restrain himself from using too much fuel in pursuit of Johnson.

"I was just trying to be patient with the No. 48," Dillon said. "I could see him saving. I thought I'd saved enough early, where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I'd go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

"I ran out at the line, and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to Victory Lane."

Matt Kenseth ran fourth, followed by Joe Gibbs racing teammate Denny Hamlin, as Toyotas claimed positions two through five.

The fireworks started early at the 1.5-mile track, more than six hours before the race ended. On Lap 20, five laps before a scheduled competition caution, a large piece of debris shot from the back of Jeffrey Earnhardt's smoking No. 33 car into the path of Chase Elliott's No. 24 Chevrolet.

The debris knocked a hole in the nose of Elliott's car, and flames erupted beneath the engine compartment as fluid spilled from the Chevy. Brad Keselowski skidded through the oil, as if his No. 2 Ford had hit a patch of ice, and piled into the back of Elliott's car, destroying both machines.

"Somebody broke, and there was just oil everywhere, and I couldn't turn," Keselowski said. "I ran into the back of Chase. Somebody broke in front of him, and then he ran over what they broke and then he broke, so there were two cars broke in front of me and just oil everywhere.

"You couldn't stop and turn. You couldn't do anything. It's a real bummer for our team. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford, and I think we had a shot at winning tonight, but that's how it goes."

Elliott was equally disappointed that his car was on a wrecker in the garage.

"The No. 33 broke something ahead of me and I ended up hitting it," Elliott said. "I hit it pretty hard. I knew it had hurt our nose at least, then I saw some flames and figured we were laying down oil too, I guess.

"Brad couldn't get stopped and ended up kind of finishing us off, but it was a bummer. I hate it. I don't really know what you do about stuff like that. Just move on."

After the subsequent restart on Lap 28, the rest of the first 100-lap stage ran caution-free, with Kyle Busch passing Truex on Lap 90 and pulling away to secure the playoff point accorded the stage winner.

Truex was leading when the caution flag flew for the third time on Lap 142 after Matt DiBenedetto's No. 32 Ford slammed into the outside wall. Moments later, NASCAR red-flagged the race because of the threat of heavy rain and lightning in the area.

The rain arrived and drenched the track, forcing a delay of 1 hour, 39 minutes, 56 seconds before the cars started rolling again.

Truex dominated after a restart on Lap 176 and won the second stage going away. The driver of the No. 78 Toyota appeared headed for another victory in Stage 3 until series leader Kyle Larson blew a tire and pounded the wall on Lap 292.

"I got really loose into (Turn) 3 and hit the wall and got a lot of damage, and the tire started to go down and then exploded in (Turn) 1," Larson said. "I just hate it that I made a mistake there in Turn 3 and got in the wall.

"I wasn't even running hard up there. I just got loose and then I hit it and it ruined our day. I'm hoping to hold onto the point lead and then go to Dover next week and try to do better."

(As it turned out, Truex took over the series lead by five points over Larson, with Keselowski 82 points back in third-place.)

After Larson's accident, Truex lost three spots on pit road on Lap 294, ceding the stage win to Denny Hamlin.

But Truex, who led a race-high 233 laps — and led the most laps in the Coca-Cola 600 for the third straight year with only last year's win to show for it — regained the top spot after a restart on Lap 334, clearing Kyle Busch through the first two corners, and soon pulled away to a two-second lead.

Then Dillon's fuel-mileage play changed everything.

FPW17D74IMS 2581His race ended like so many others have the past couple years – prematurely with smoke trailing from his broken Honda engine. But there was nothing ordinary or routine about what Fernando Alonso did this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The two-time Formula 1 champion's initial run at the Indianapolis 500 was smooth, fast, impressive and wildly popular as he confirmed that he's not only one of the greatest drivers of the past several decades but he's also one of savviest.

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He stepped out of his comfort zone and into the mayhem of oval-track racing at 220 mph with amazing aplomb.

"I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car but I didn't know if I could be as quick as anyone in an Indy car," said Alonso after starting fifth, leading 27 laps and handling traffic like a 10-year veteran before blowing up with 21 laps left while running sixth. "I came here basically to prove and challenge myself and the last two weeks have been a great experience."

Despite many of his fellow F1 drivers questioning his sanity for passing up Monaco to try Indy, Alonso welcomed a change of scenery. It's been four years since he won an F1 race because (Ferrari in 2014) and McLaren-Honda have given him dogs to drive. So from the first day he turned a wheel at IMS (May 3) to his splendid qualifying run to mixing it up for the better part of three hours on Sunday, he was back in his competitive element.

dcd1728my1054"It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500," said the 35-year-old Spaniard, who made several nifty passes during the afternoon. "I was passing and watching the tower and saw 29 on the top of it. I was thinking at that moment if Zak (Brown, McLaren boss) or someone from the team was taking a picture, because I wanted to take that picture home."

After his McLaren-Andretti Honda coasted to a stop, Alonso got out and walked back to his pits amid a massive roar from the grandstands. It was cool to hear because the U.S. fans obviously got it and understood they'd just witnessed a command performance from a true racer.

"I want to thank IndyCar, Michael (Andretti), my teammates and Zak for this incredible experience," he said. "And thanks to Indianapolis and to the fans – I felt at home. I'm not American but I really felt proud to race here."

An Indy rookie in title only, Fernando is a free agent at the end of 2017 and he's said on a couple of occasions that he is an F1 driver who also wants to win Le Mans and Indianapolis but he'll be exploring his options for 2018 and beyond. Does he envision a return trip to IMS?

"If I come back here at least I know how everything is and it will not be the first time I do restarts, pit stops and all these kinds of things," he replied. "So it will be easier, let's say, adaptation. Let's see what happens in the following years.

"But I need to keep pursuing this challenge, because winning the Indy 500 is not completed."

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