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Andretti Autosport’s quartet goes for seventh heaven in Iowa

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Among the famous lines from Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” movie is the line where Costner’s dad in the movie ponders, “Is this heaven?” to which Costner replies, “It’s Iowa.”

For Andretti Autosport, the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway has been the team’s personal heaven – it goes for seventh heaven this weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Iowa Corn 300 (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN) after winning each of the last six races here since 2010 (and seven overall, having won the series’ maiden trip in 2007).

The team has already secured the biggest race win of the year with Alexander Rossi’s famous win in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, but since that point the team has only one podium finish, when Ryan Hunter-Reay came third at the second race in Detroit.

Hunter-Reay is a three-time Iowa Speedway winner (2012, 2014 and 2015) and looks for his third straight, fourth overall win at Iowa. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda sits 11th in points but is only 29 points behind Scott Dixon, who sits fourth.

“Iowa is certainly one of the highlights on the schedule for our team,” Hunter-Reay said in the team’s advance release. “Great facility, great racing and we have a pretty impressive record to defend.”

Andretti Autosport does still have two drivers in the top 10 in points. Rossi – who has won the series’ most recent completed oval race – sits 10th in points while Carlos Munoz scored the pole at the now-postponed Texas Motor Speedway round and is highest of the quartet in seventh. Thing is, the two drivers are only separated by five points.

Munoz, who was an under-the-radar good fifth place here last year and 12th in 2014, is keen to secure his first oval win an IndyCar in his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, while Rossi will look for a solid result in his Iowa race debut. He had a small spin in testing but nothing that damaged his No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda beyond minor repairs.

“Iowa has been a great track for Andretti the past couple years. We tested there last week and the track is much different than it was last year, so we will see how competitive we will be this year,” Munoz said.

Rossi added, “We just tested there last week and I have to say that it’s a pretty crazy track and have no doubt it will be very entertaining for the fans.”

We come next to Marco Andretti, in desperate need of any result of note after a challenging season to date.

The driver of the No. 27 Snapple Honda sits 17th in points with only one top-10 result, but he’s traditionally strong at Iowa. The 2011 race winner there has four podium finishes in nine previous starts, and is one of only four drivers who’ve run every Iowa race.

“I really enjoy the Iowa track, and we’ve had success there with six straight wins as a team,” he said. “Our focus is on keeping that streak going this weekend.

“On the 27 side, I need to turn my season around in a big way and hopefully Iowa can be a start for that.”

Past Andretti Autosport winners at Iowa include Dario Franchitti (2007), Tony Kanaan (2010), Andretti (2011), Hunter-Reay (2012, 2014 and 2015) and James Hinchcliffe (2013).

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.”