Gordon's return is a big story. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Nearly a dozen IndyCar drivers, only Gordon for NASCAR, set for Rolex 24

2 Comments

Upon the release of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona entry list comes the release of all the drivers who are among the guest stars at the season-opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign.

Interestingly, NASCAR’s presence of drivers at this year’s race is reduced, while the Verizon IndyCar Series still has a strong presence.

As both Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Shank Racing have moved to the GT categories, with Ganassi running four Ford GTs in GT Le Mans and Shank running two of the new Acura NSX GT3s in GT Daytona, their usual NASCAR extra drivers at Daytona aren’t present in 2017.

Neither Jamie McMurray nor Kyle Larson will have their usual Rolex 24 outing with Ganassi. Both drivers were part of the No. 02 Riley Ford entry that won overall in 2015 with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, rounding out the lineup. McMurray has eight career Rolex 24 starts, starting in 2005 and then continuing through last year. Larson only has three career Rolex 24 starts, each of the last three years.

Meanwhile with Shank’s team running the factory Acura program, AJ Allmendinger is not part of the Shank lineup. Allmendinger has been part of every Shank run at the Rolex 24 since 2006, including the popular winning lineup in 2012 with Ozz Negri, John Pew and the late Justin Wilson.

This means there isn’t a single full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver in the Rolex 24 field. Instead, only Jeff Gordon, who comes out of his brief retirement, will make his second Rolex 24 start with the Konica Minolta-backed Wayne Taylor Racing team in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Gordon shares that car with the car’s usual trio of Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli.

Gordon was the center of attention at the December IMSA test and recapped his first running in the car last month. He said during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 that his focus for endurance racing was only on Daytona.

Austin Cindric, who will race full-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, would be considered the lone full-time NASCAR driver in the field. The 18-year-old son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric has already established himself as one of the most versatile drivers in the country, and will share a Lexus RC F GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Rahal (center) joins No. 93 Acura lineup. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Rahal (center) joins No. 93 Acura lineup. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IndyCar, meanwhile, boasts more than a third of its 2017 full-season lineup, plus a number of others who raced at least once in 2016 as part of its 2017 contingent at the Rolex 24.

Here’s the full breakdown, with each driver’s car and co-drivers:

  • Spencer Pigot, No. 55/70 Mazda Motorsports Mazda MRT24-P (Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez)
  • James Hinchcliffe, No. 55/70 Mazda Motorsports Mazda MRT24-P (Tom Long, Joel Miller)
  • RC Enerson, No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson (Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Mike Guasch)
  • Sebastien Bourdais, No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller)
  • Scott Dixon, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook)
  • Tony Kanaan, No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell)
  • Sage Karam, No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Scott Pruett, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes)
  • Jack Hawksworth, No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Dominik Farnbacher)
  • Townsend Bell, No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS (Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer)
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer)
  • Graham Rahal, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins)

Of those 11 drivers, Bourdais, Dixon, Kanaan and Rahal have overall wins at the Rolex 24, with Bell adding a class win. Hunter-Reay has come close on a couple occasions. The other five younger drivers, in Pigot, Hinchcliffe, Karam and Hawksworth look for a breakout Rolex 24 race, while Enerson makes his sports car debut.

This doesn’t factor in others with past IndyCar experience prior to 2016, who are peppered in elsewhere in the field.

There’s plenty of other standout sports car drivers as well among the guest drivers, as the field is pretty well-stocked this year from top to bottom.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

Leave a comment

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.”