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Dixon leads, as times are crazy fast in Watkins Glen first practice

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – As expected, times have plunged in the opening practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Watkins Glen International.

Scott Dixon took the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to a 1:24.1281 lap time around the 3.37-mile road course in the opening practice, which was scheduled for 45 minutes initially but extended an extra 10 minutes owing to a red flag for an incident involving Conor Daly.

Dixon then went even quicker to a 1:23.8921 time, with an average speed of 144.614 mph!

“A little bit cooler than when we tested, but the Target car rolled off quick,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis.

The official track record is 1:28.1322 by Ryan Briscoe in 2009. But owing to the repave of the track and the new aero kit components, times are four-plus seconds clear. And that’s only on Firestone’s black primary tires, not the red softer alternates.

Daly’s incident occurred when he lost control off the downhill left-handed Turn 6, apparently hitting water in the curbing from overnight rain and then spinning to the other side of the course. He was OK and spoke to Beekhuis afterwards, but his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda was not.

Beyond Dixon up front, Sebastien Bourdais was second in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet, with Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal completing the top five.

Of note, Spencer Pigot was 16th and RC Enerson was 17th, both back in their cars for the first time since Mid-Ohio. Pigot takes over the newly reliveried No. 20 Samsung Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing while Enerson is in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

Times are below. We are also LIVE on NBCSN for free practice two, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. ET.

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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

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