Denny Hamlin: Faster cars in Chase haven’t been getting through “due process”

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It’s no secret that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota driver Denny Hamlin has been down on power compared to some of his rivals in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Yet here we are going into Sunday’s Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix International Raceway with Hamlin tied atop the Chase Grid with Joey Logano, who’s had one of the fastest cars all season long.

Hamlin has finished eighth and 10th in the first two Eliminator races, but it’s been enough to put him where he is thanks in part to setbacks and poor results from the likes of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon during this ongoing round.

Earlier this week, Hamlin likened the current Chase situation to that of heavy Super Bowl favorites who still must go through the playoffs to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy – what he called the “due process.”

“Some of these fast cars that everyone deemed as favorites are not getting through that due process as cleanly as probably they should or they’ve had bad luck along the way,” Hamlin said.

“So it’s allowing us – the teams that you could say are the underdogs – to kind of pounce on them and kind of just grind our way to hopefully a championship shot at Homestead.”

At the start of the Eliminator Round, there was a seemingly clear line drawn between the favorites – Logano, Gordon, Keselowski, and Harvick – and the underdogs such as Hamlin, JGR teammate Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards.

But with one race to go before the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, two of those four underdogs are in advance positions with Hamlin up over the cutoff by 13 points and Newman in third at 11 points over the cutoff.

And Kenseth and Edwards are both just one point behind Gordon for the fourth and final advance position.

Hamlin foresees a scenario where three of the Eliminator 8 can make the Championship on points with a Top-10 finish and the rest of the Chasers are fighting for a win that would give them the automatic bid.

He can make the Championship himself with a finish of 11th or better on Sunday. But with all eight Chasers yet to be locked in, he’ll have to push as hard as he can.

“I think as tense as eight drivers are going to be this weekend, cautious is going to make you finish about 17th,” he said. “So I can’t count on that. I think that I have to be aggressive…You especially can’t be lax on restarts – the freight train, stuck on the top line, can’t get down. There’s a lot of factors that track does not allow you to be conservative at.”

“So I go there more worried about can we finish Top-10 on performance than I am, ‘Hey, let’s just kind of back our way into it, let’s just kind of coast to the finish line here.’ I just don’t think that with eight guys still in it, that’s going to be possible.”

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.”