Castroneves increases IndyCar title lead to 49 points over Dixon (VIDEO)

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Championships come through hard work, dedication – and some breaks that wind up going in your favor. Today on the streets of Baltimore, Helio Castroneves certainly got those breaks.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was forced to pit for a new nosecone on Lap 2 after sustaining front wing damage on the opening lap. Then during another stop under yellow at Lap 41, he tagged one of his own crew members as he was coming into his stall, which brought out the black flag for him.

An outbreak of incidents kept him from serving the drive-through penalty under green until shortly after a restart with 15 laps to go. But even despite all of those problems, Castroneves came home with a ninth-place result.

Meanwhile, his two main title rivals found calamity. Scott Dixon finished 19th after a restart incident with Will Power that put him in the frontstretch wall, while Hunter-Reay lost power on his car and was scored 20th.

Thus, with three races remaining in the season, Castroneves’ lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship over Dixon has increased to 49 markers – while Hunter-Reay fell behind both Baltimore race winner Simon Pagenaud and teammate Marco Andretti to fifth in the standings.

“If you guys had said I was going to finish in the Top 10 after the first lap, I’d be like, ‘I’ll take it, give it to me,'” Castroneves told NBCSN after the race. “I’m still dreaming really, really big. We have three races to go and there are still a lot of points left in the game. We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing.”

Following his run-in with Power, Dixon – who had survived an earlier spin on a prior restart after contact with Graham Rahal – tried talking with an IndyCar official about getting his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda back to pit road so his team could fix the damage.

However, that request was ultimately denied and Dixon was out of the race – the latest problem for the New Zealander after a controversial pit road penalty cost him the win at Sonoma one week ago.

“I was just annoyed that – it’s clearly stated that every time, they’ll bring the car back to the pits unless it’s 10 laps to go,” Dixon said to NBCSN at the time. “We’re fighting for every point at the moment. There’s a little bit of suspension damage, but definitely something we can repair.

“I have no idea why they haven’t brought it back to the pits, but that’s just [INDYCAR Race Director] Beaux [Barfield] making it up as he goes every time and there’s absolutely no consistency. Rahal takes me out, there’s no penalty, and then [Power] slams us in the wall. Man, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.”

For Hunter-Reay, the defending race winner at Baltimore, Sunday was a grind. He fell all the way back to 20th at the end of Lap 1 after he had a problem with the anti-stall mechanism on his No. 1 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

From there, it was all about trying to come back, and Hunter-Reay did manage to make his way into the Top 10. But just after the halfway point of the race, his battery went dead.

With his car unable to get in neutral, he could not return to pit road for a re-fire and his afternoon came to an end.

“I believe in miracles, but that’s probably what it’s going to take now [to clinch the championship],” said Hunter-Reay, who is now 74 points off Castroneves. “Hard work and fighting hard probably isn’t going to do it from here.”

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”