INDIANAPOLIS – Argue all you want about whether Scott Dixon had the better car, or whether IndyCar should have prevented a yellow-flag finish for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. Takuma Sato will let you finish, while chugging, then drenching himself in his two-percent milk. Because the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, the pride of Japan, took the checkered flag Sunday to cap an Indy 500 that will be talked about for years to come.

“The Indy 500, you never really know until the last corner,” said Sato, the 20th two-time winner of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. “This is unbelievable. Thank you so much. I can’t find the words, can’t find the words.

“This is unbelievable.”

Sato’s second 500 title in the last four tries came as fellow front-row starter Dixon led 111 laps, including a first-lap pass on pole-sitter Marco Andretti that quickly pushed the Andretti Autosport driver out of the picture. Dixon started the day ninth overall in career laps led at the 500 with 452 but charged near the front of the record books, passing the likes of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti into third.


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In what had been unofficially deemed “The Year of Dixon” after the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s three consecutive victories to kickoff the 2020 season, he looked poised to run away from the field. At one point in the first half of Sunday’s race, Dixon led by more than 10 seconds, with the field split into two pit strategies. He was far on top of them all.

And even when the field would bunch up in one of the seven cautions spread throughout the day, it almost always seemed Dixon was right there, leading or preparing to charge — the focus of everyone’s attention.

But he said Thursday that could be a driver’s downfall.

“I think if you can fly under the radar, which will be difficult when you’re up toward the front, if you can be in the top five and really have nothing wrong going on, that would be perfect I think,” he said in Thursday’s media day. “You don’t want to be the center of attention, that’s for sure I think.

“You’ve got to have a pretty much perfect day. You almost need a perfect race and a little bit of luck, man. With just how cautions fall and the fuel strategy battle, there seems to be (late) cautions that reverse the field or splits it a little bit. Yeah, I think you need a perfect day with a lot of luck.”

Dixon nearly had the first, but he couldn’t snag the latter.

Through more than halfway, Dixon had latched onto an unofficial teammate of sorts in last year’s runner-up Alexander Rossi, as the two traded the lead back and forth each lap and the tandem tried to create a gap in the rest of the field. The maneuver started once the Andretti driver passed Sato on Lap 101.

But after Alex Palou’s one-car crash on Lap 122, nearly the entire field dove into pit lane for a stop two laps later. There, Rossi pulled out of his box and made light contact with Sato, who was driving in the slow lane. Rossi was called for an unsafe release and moved to the back of the field on the restart — Dixon’s partner now gone.

Rossi would lose traction in Turn 2 20 laps later and slam into the wall, his day done.

“I just go on what I’m told, but still, Takuma’s moving in reaction on restarts and doesn’t get a penalty. Just consistency,” Rossi said on the broadcast. “We’ll talk about it. I don’t have an opinion right now. It’s obviously frustrating. There’s two sides to every story.”


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Sato’s car survived the contact, and three laps after the green flag, Sato surged into first, passing Dixon at the start-finish line on Lap 157. After leading what he said after the race may have been a few too many laps at that stage, the RLL was forced to dip into the pits for his final stop one lap earlier than Dixon, who after the race thought his competitor was dipping dangerously low to the bottom of his tank.

“He seemed to be hesitating around 15 or 12 to go. We got side-by-side on the front straight, but then I think he decided it was too slow and went back at it,” Dixon said. “I probably should have been more aggressive there. Should have maybe gone harder and maybe he would have run out of fuel. This is definitely hard to swallow for the team.

“But it was a hell of a race, and he’s victorious. He’s drinking the milk, and that’s all that counts.”

After the field shuffled through pit lane the final time, Sato took over third — and the proverbial race lead over Dixon — on Lap 172. All the sudden, his car looked the raciest, pushing a deficit to Dixon eventually to more than a second. It brought back memories of defending champion Simon Pagenaud’s defense of the lead a year ago over Rossi, always forcing the car to the high side, Dixon never getting close enough out of Turns 2 or 4 to make a legitimate run.

Sato said, with under 20 to go, his team told him he appeared to be right on the mark on fuel, making the defense of the lead possible.

“Our team, we had a pep rally in the garage this morning, and I said I’ve never been so pleased with where this team stands now,” said team owner Bobby Rahal, whose team also won in 2004 with Buddy Rice. “They went toe-to-toe with Andretti, Ganassi, McLaren, Penske. A tough crowd, maybe tougher than normal, and we were able to compete and win. Just a tremendous sense of pride for the team.


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“And Takuma, he always shows up, and he’s ready to go. He’s no 80 or 85 or even 90%. That’s what I love about him. He’s simply a guy that understands this, and he goes out and does the best job he possibly can.”

As the lead pack began to navigate lapped traffic with six laps to go, they came to the line, as the race’s most monumental moment happened a few hundred yards behind them. Sato’s teammate Spencer Pigot got sideways in Turn 4, sliding to the pit lane attenuator and smashing his car — and Dixon’s hope for his second Indy 500 win. The caution came out, and with just five laps to go, the race ended under caution, rather than a red flag that was used in 2014 with eight laps to go.

IndyCar released the following statement: “IndyCar makes every effort to end races under green, but in this case following the assessment of the incident, there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart for a green-flag finish.”

Dixon was left wondering, thinking a race leader with three or so to go “would have been a sitting duck.” Sato wasn’t sure how it might have played out, but his team owner shot down any room for wonder.

“He was a threat to win really at any stage of the race,” Rahal said, “and he’s a deserving winner.”

More: Scary Spencer Pigot crash ends Indy 500 on yellow

More: David Letterman: Indy 500 winning owner

More: Mad Alexander Rossi captivated Twitter before a crash ended his run

Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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