Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Oliver Askew dominating USF2000 four races in

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Dominance is defined as “power and influence over others.” In essence, one who exerts dominance displays a level of superiority; he or she is simply better than everyone else, at least for a given time period.

In every sense of the word, Oliver Askew has been dominant in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. In fact, it’s been nearly perfect. Askew has led 47 of the 81 total laps, taking three wins and one second-place finish through four races. And that high level of performance was on full display at his last outing at Barber Motorsports Park.

Askew and his Cape Motorsports team qualified on pole for both races, led every lap in both races, and won both races to complete a clean sweep of the weekend. As Askew told NBC Sports, such a feat is never easy.

“It’s definitely hard to finish a sweep over the weekend, especially because I think, in most cases, the competitors end up catching you at the end of the weekend, or the gap is closer,” he explained. “It’s so hard to keep progressing when you already feel like you’re at the limit.”

Oliver Askew swept the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

On the surface, everything looked routine, smooth, and even easy for Askew. However, particularly during Race 1, setup issues resulting from the different tire rubber made for an interesting challenge.

“We were actually struggling a little bit on (Friday) with the balance of the car. The IndyCar rubber went down, and that caught us off guard a bit,” he said. “But, we made it a lot better for the race on (Saturday). I think if we didn’t have such a long safety car period, we’d have actually driven away from the car in second, not like how the race was on Friday.”

The early-season strength does not come as much of a surprise given the form he and the team displayed during pre-season testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Askew was also quickest. As he asserted, the performance was a sign that he and the team could do great things this year.

“We were up at least three tenths on the field in every session except the last one, when we didn’t put new tires on. I think that kind of set the tone and set our expectations for the season, especially the season openers. After that test, we kind of knew what our expectations were and what the potential for us was.”

Of course, a look at Cape Motorsports’ history also indicates a potential for dominance. The Florida-based team has won five consecutive USF2000 championships and, as Askew explained, works in a seamless, machine-like manner that would rival even the biggest of racing operations in its attention to details. “The way they work is amazing. They can just get so much done. At this level, with the cars being exactly the same and the engines being spec, all the details matter massively. I think the guys at Cape Motorsports definitely nailed down those details and provided a fantastic race car.”

However, being a rookie in any series poses a set of unique obstacles, mostly due to inexperience, that cannot be ignored. Askew admitted that his learning curve has been steep, but the team around him has helped the transition from karts to cars go relatively smoothly.

“My learning curve has been very steep, since about the start of the Team USA Scholarship, and also at the Mazda shootout in (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca). I learned so much in testing there. I feel like I have so many good people around me now, and that’s really shown in my performance.“

Further, his time in karting (he spent 11 years racing karts) helped him develop a strong race craft, a skill set he was able to carry into USF2000.

“I expected to be competitive. I don’t think this competitive, this fast! I’ve been racing karts for 11 years, prior to this season. I think the race craft and speed has also come from all those years of racing go karts,” he explained.

Currently, Askew leads Kaylen Frederick by 34 points going into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, where all the ladders of the Mazda Road to Indy will compete on May 12-13.

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.