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Sato grabs satisfying IndyCar victory

AP, Kyodo

Takuma Sato held off Ed Carpenter to win the IndyCar race Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Sato won by 0.399 seconds. Tony Kaanan was third, followed by Santino Ferrucci and Simon Pagenaud.

Sato’s second victory of the season comes on the heels of his highly scrutinized move on the first lap at Pocono Raceway last week that helped trigger a major accident.

“After the difficult circumstances and coming here . . . the win is so big,” said Sato, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion. “We came back. Of course we had some luck. It was tough the last five laps with the tire degradation. But I couldn’t throw this away after the tough circumstances.

“I just wanted to bring the car home, which we did. This win is so special, this is just so emotional to do it.”

Pole-sitter and series points leader Josef Newgarden spun coming out of Turn 4 of the last lap and finished seventh.

“We actually missed a bit (on the setup) in the long run,” Newgarden said. “Our setup didn’t favor the tires for the long run. I thought we were in the right window last night. But we learned tonight we weren’t for the longevity.”

Newgarden extended his points lead over teammate Pagenaud. Newgarden has 563 points to Pagenaud’s 525. Alexander Rossi is third with 517.

Sato’s win denied Team Penske a sweep of the ovals this season. He also raced to a sorely needed win for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Sato started fifth on the grid but was immediately shuffled back through the pack after making early contact, falling to 16th by the eighth lap.

He fell to last on the 42nd lap and then began his charge to the top.

He climbed 15 places between lap 89 and 121 and then, after a pit stop, made it to the lead by the 188th lap, a position he would not give up for the next 60 tours of the track.

The result gives Sato 382 championship points and puts him in sixth in the drivers’ standings.

The victory comes at the end of the week that saw Sato and his team defend themselves in the fallout from the crash last week at Pocono.

His team said it took the rare step Tuesday of publicly defending Sato, who has been widely blamed for triggering a five-car accident that altered the championship race, because its internal review of the onboard data and camera showed he was not at fault for triggering the accident. Sato was racing three-wide with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi when they crashed heading into the second turn. Rossi was second in the series standings at the time.

The team called the incident “part and parcel” of oval racing, particularly with track position so vital.

“It’s a racing incident and we as a team wish to publicly state that we stand behind our drivers and have absolute faith in their ability to race and perform at the highest level for RLL,” the statement said. “This was a racing incident which unfortunately may have some championship implications.”

RLL then noted Graham Rahal was second in the championship standings until a crash at Pocono in 2015 derailed his title hopes, “so we know the frustration drivers and teams experienced.”

Both Sato and Pocono Raceway itself have faced heavy criticism since the Sunday accident. Felix Rosenqvist was taken to a hospital with a headache and back pain after his car sailed into the fence, and Sato’s car landed on top of Hunter-Reay. Most drivers blamed Sato for the contact that triggered the crash, but others focused on debatable compatibility between IndyCar and the Pennsylvania 2.5-mile (4-km) oval.