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100 days out from Indy 500, questions abound to get to 33 cars

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Today marks 100 days until the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

In those 100 days, there’s going to be a heck of a lot of questions and documenting exactly how the field will get to 33 cars this year.

It will, as it always has, but for the first time since the North American open-wheel merger in 2008 there seems to be fewer confirmed cars for this time of year.

Here’s what we know will be happening from what we’ve gathered and what’s already been announced:

You can count 21 expected full-season cars:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing (4): Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton
  • Team Penske (4): Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud
  • Andretti Autosport (4): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz, TBA
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2): James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2): Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth
  • Dale Coyne Racing (2): Conor Daly, TBA
  • KVSH Racing (1): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1): Graham Rahal
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (1): Josef Newgarden

Then we factor in the cars that have already been announced as extras for either the month of May only or selected races:

  • Dale Coyne Racing (1): Bryan Clauson
  • PIRTEK Team Murray (KVRT technical alliance) (1): Matthew Brabham
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1): Spencer Pigot
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (1): Ed Carpenter
  • Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1): Sage Karam
  • Grace Autosport (1): Katherine Legge

Grace, as we noted last week in an interview with team principal Beth Paretta, is at an important stage in its race to make the field – it will need a team technical partnership and an engine partner to be determined probably by early next month.

From the aforementioned 27 cars, the six extras joining the 21 full-season, here’s the projected engine breakdown:

  • Honda (13): Andretti 4, Coyne 3, SPM 2, Foyt 2, RLL 2
  • Chevrolet (13): Ganassi 4, Penske 4, Carpenter 2, KVSH 1, PIRTEK 1, DRR 1
  • TBD (1): Grace

The engine numbers are vitally important here. If Honda and Chevrolet can provide up to a total of 17 engine leases apiece – Honda’s Steve Eriksen has already told MotorSportsTalk that’s it’s likely target – that means there’s only four remaining engine leases per manufacturer still available.

For it being only February 19, Honda’s four “extras” as you were beyond the 13 that we know are confirmed could already be accounted for.

In recent years, Andretti, Schmidt Peterson and Foyt have each run an extra car at the Indianapolis 500. Even with Thursday’s news that Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport have partnered, Andretti still has the capabilities to add a fifth car.

It’s a de facto net loss of one potential extra car between the two of them. Andretti accounted for five cars in 2015 (Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Munoz, Simona de Silvestro and the late Justin Wilson) and Herta one (Gabby Chaves).

Then, if you factor in a potential fourth Coyne entry for Pippa Mann, as was not-quite-confirmed-but-strongly-suggested in December, that coupled with the same three teams adding one car each would take Honda up to 17, and its potential limit.

The Chevrolet teams tend to keep their cards closer to their vest. Ganassi has added an extra car each of the last three years, for Ryan Briscoe (2013), Karam (2014, DRR with Ganassi technical support) and Sebastian Saavedra (2015). Carpenter, KV and DRR could have the potential to add extras as well. But whether Ganassi goes to five and/or Carpenter and KV goes to three this year remains to be seen. Buddy Lazier’s family-run team has been present at each of the last three Indianapolis 500s, but failed to qualify last year.

Assuming Grace Autosport secures its lease and a team partnership, that removes one extra spot at either manufacturer and limits the number to three remaining leases, again if 17 is what we’re going for to make 34 cars and thus one over the limit of 33.

Then you get to the drivers who could be in the frame for seats, again, based on past history.

  • 2015 Indianapolis 500 drivers not currently announced (13): JR Hildebrand, Ryan Briscoe, Townsend Bell, Gabby Chaves, Alex Tagliani, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro, Pippa Mann, Sebastian Saavedra, Stefano Coletti, James Davison, Tristan Vautier, Oriol Servia
  • Young guns of note seeking to make their way in (3-plus): Stefan Wilson, Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, others TBD
  • Other veterans who’d be keen to race: TBD, but they’re out there

Bell, Mann and Saavedra have generally, consistently assembled programs to make their Indianapolis 500 dreams come true.

Of the others in that 2015 range, Tagliani or Servia are solid veterans who can help a team, Chaves is a rising talent now left sidelined, Vautier impressed in limited running last year at the Speedway and Hildebrand could well be in the frame too.

Where they fit is the question, and where the other cars come from for the race is also a question.

It’s going to likely be an interesting next 30 days, as the countdown to the 100th hits 100 today.

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.”