Craig Murto: Alonso, Sato thrill Indy crowd

The “greatest spectacle in racing,” the Indy 500, was made greater by Fernando Alonso and Takuma Sato.

Former Formula One champion Alonso took a break from his driving duties at McLaren in order to compete at Indy in a joint effort between McLaren and Andretti Autosport. The day after Alonso’s Indy effort was announced, more than 100 extra requests for credentials arrived at the track from foreign media outlets. All eyes were on Indy.

The Spaniard proved to be a quick learner, as he qualified fifth and led much of the race before his Honda engine broke. It was a sadly ironic departure from the race, as the Honda engine in his McLaren F1 car usually fails.

But there was no engine failure for Takuma Sato. The 40-year-old racer from Tokyo, driving for Andretti Autosport, became the first Asian to win the Indy 500.

Known for saying, “No attack, no chance,” Sato sometimes has a reputation for wild driving, perhaps a little too much attack. He first arrived on the international racing scene in 2002, driving for the Jordan F1 team. That lasted a season before he moved to the BAR Honda team in 2003, a three-year stint highlighted by a podium finish in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2004.

Wrapping up his F1 career with the uncompetitive Super Aguri team, Sato eventually found his way to the IndyCar Series in 2010, driving for KV Racing.

In 2012 he drove for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and nearly won the Indy 500. He attempted a last-lap pass of Dario Franchitti for the win, but wound up crashing in Turn 1. Fans appreciated the fact that he at least went for it, though.

Sato teamed up with the legendary A.J. Foyt in 2013, and in only his third race with the team scored his first IndyCar win on the streets of Long Beach, California. Though he never won for Foyt again, Sato did have some impressive runs. But when Foyt switched to Chevrolet power, Honda helped Sato land the ride in the No. 26 Andretti car.

And now Sato rewarded the Andretti team with its fifth Indy 500 win in six years. He raced for it, too, as he battled Helio Castroneves, who attempted to become a four-time Indy winner. The two drivers swapped the lead a couple times in the last laps of the race, with Sato eventually scoring the win in one of the most popular victories in recent years. Cheers even echoed throughout the speedway’s media center when the personable driver crossed the finish line.

The Indy 500 wasn’t the only motorsport event last weekend. Ferrari dominated the Monaco Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel extended his points lead. Kimi Raikkonen finished second in the race, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo third.

The 600-mile NASCAR race at Charlotte went until Monday morning after it was interrupted by a thunder storm. In one of the most entertaining 600s in recent memory, Austin Dillon grabbed his first win by playing the fuel-mileage card, putting the Richard Chidress Racing No. 3 back in Victory Lane for the first time sine Dale Earnhardt was behind the wheel.

Kyle Busch was not pleased with his second-place run, as he thought his last-lap pass of Martin Truex Jr. was for the lead. Jimmie Johnson probably had the best excuse for not being happy, as he ran out of gas while leading the race with two laps remaining. Johnson handled his disappointment with class, though, and was gracious in post-race interviews.

Bobby Pierce took home the $30,000 winner’s share at the Show-Me 100 dirt Late Model race at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri. Earl Pearson Jr. and Tim McCreadie followed him to the line. The race was postponed from Saturday night until Sunday due to weather bad enough to get a local school opened as a shelter for racetrack campers.

The American Flat Track motorcycle series ran its big race of the year at the Springfield (Illinois) Mile, and it was the best finish of any race of the weekend. Bryan Smith rode his Indian to a .005-second victory in a three-wide finish with second-place Indian rider Jared Mees and Sammy Halbert on a Yamaha. Many of these same riders will be competing at Hagerstown on July 1.

Locally, Tony Harris won the Virginia Sprint Series feature at Shenandoah Speedway. Trever Feathers took the Late Model win at Winchester Speedway, while Transtan Stoner grabbed the crate-engine Late Model win.