Harvick may be in best position of all Chase drivers at PIR

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Even though he’s last in the Chase standings, Kevin Harvick may very well be in the catbird’s seat heading into this weekend’s Quicken Loans For Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Harvick is 18 points behind series leader Joey Logano. But with five career wins at what is arguably his favorite track on the Sprint Cup circuit, Harvick’s hopes to advance to the final round of the Chase may be in the right place at the right time at PIR.

Harvick certainly got a good start in the right direction, setting a new track record in Friday’s practice session, putting him at the top of the heap of the 44 drivers entered.

“We couldn’t pick a better race track for us to come to next and need to try and win a race,” Harvick said during Friday morning’s media availability at PIR. “We are really excited. The team is in good spirits, and we are looking forward to this weekend’s challenges.”

Harvick knows the easiest way for him to advance to the four-driver, winner-take-all battle for the championship next week at Homestead is by reaching victory lane this Sunday in Phoenix.

“I think you need to win this weekend,” Harvick said. ‘I think it would leave a lot less in everybody else’s hands. I think we are very capable of winning this race and we have been fortunate to have a lot of success here in the past from my driving side and the first race this year. That would be the easiest way to do it.”

When asked which drivers he envisions advancing to Homestead, Harvick quipped, “I never even thought about it.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of Friday’s session with the media wasn’t about Harvick’s championship hopes, but more his involvement – or lack thereof – in last Sunday’s brawl between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.

On the one hand, Harvick hopes the drama has ended and we can get back to serious racing Sunday.

“The competitor in me loves the controversy and loves the situations that it puts the competitors in,” Harvick said. “… But, live and learn, and you move on. That is the one thing about this sport is you have to get over things quickly.

“I think as you move forward you just have to do the best that you can to try to handle things different. All in all it was a good weekend for us (at Texas), but obviously afterwards it’s not the way you wanted it to end for us.”

Harvick was asked if he tried to incite Keselowski into fighting Gordon when he (Harvick) pushed Keselowski towards Gordon last Sunday on pit road after the race at Texas.

“Honestly, I was leaning on the back of the car just kind of taking it all in and seeing what was going on,” Harvick said. “I have been in that situation with him (Keselowski) before. For me it is like the week of two totally opposite situations.

“I have no problem with the way Brad races. I think he races hard. I think that is what we are all supposed to do and in those positions you would probably do the same thing yourself.

“But, I think that the problem that I have with it, I have been in that situation with him before and have him turn his back on me and just walk off. I don’t think that is the appropriate way to handle those types of situations.”

In other words, Harvick pushed Keselowski to man up and take care of business, rather than walk away from conflict.

“It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I reacted and obviously didn’t really realize that it was going to ignite that,” Harvick said. “All in all it just kind of rubs me the wrong way when you have to just turn your back on situations and walk off and mumble your way off into no man’s land and not just handle the situation.

“I think in those situations you at least deserve, even if you are going to get yelled at or whatever the case may be, you at least need to handle it like it needs to be handled.”

Having had several days to reflect upon his decision to push Keselowski, does Harvick regret essentially sparking the Texas brawl?

“I never look back on something as a regret,” Harvick said. “I think you look back on them as lessons. Things happen and you have to react.

“I think as you look at the situation you probably could have handled it differently. But all in all, you just take it as a life lesson and move on.”

Surprisingly, Harvick may be the only driver on the racetrack who stood up for the way Keselowski raced Gordon at Texas.

“I have no problem with the move,” Harvick said of the moment when Keselowski hit Gordon’s car, leading to a flat tire that knocked Gordon from having a chance at victory. ” I have no problem with the way that he raced.

“I just have a problem with the way that you know in those situations that there is going to be controversy when all that stuff happens.  In the end you can’t just turn your back and walk away and just act like it didn’t happen and blame it on somebody else.  It’s just not how it works.”

Will Harvick feel that way if the only thing between him and advancing to the championship-deciding finale at Homestead winds up being Keselowski?

Now that could be a whole different story.

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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.”