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Rolex 24: Can Fernando Alonso do at Daytona what he didn’t at Indianapolis? Namely, win?

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Fernando Alonso is going through a phase – and that’s meant in a good way.

He’s trying things he’s never done before and taking in the enjoyment and newness of it all.

Last year, it was Alonso taking part in and doing well for much of his first Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps early in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing and appeared headed to a potential upset win before a blown motor with just over 20 laps ended his day and winning hopes prematurely.

Tuesday, the 36-year-old Spaniard was in Charlotte for a stop at NASCAR Media Day and waxed whimsically about how he might want to try NASCAR some day – but not some day soon, though.

And this weekend, Alonso will enjoy another career first, competing in his first Rolex 24 endurance race this Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The two-time Formula One world champion is casting a large presence in Daytona, but nowhere near as large as last year at Indianapolis.

Still, his name has drawing power that should help the overall crowd for the 24 Hours, and much like at Indy last May, he is in a car – the United Autosports No. 23 Ligier LMP2 – that could surprise with a strong run.

Even though this will be his first endurance race in a sports car, Alonso already has a feel for what’s in store this weekend, having taken part in the three-day Roar Before the 24 three weeks ago at Daytona.

He got a good handle on the difference between a sports car and an open wheel Formula One chassis. He also got a good handle on the Daytona road course layout.

And much like he did in Indianapolis, don’t be surprised if Alonso surprises with a strong outing in the Rolex 24.

“You feel the compression in the body, you feel the visibility change because when in a normal car on the circuit, your view in the car is longer ahead,” told IMSA Wire at the conclusion of the Roar. “When you are in the corner with banking you see only the next 200 meters of the track.

“But it was good fun, a good feeling after missing track time. So far, so good.’’

IMSA President Scott Atherton has quickly become an Alonso fan, both personally and also for what his inclusion in the race will do for the race series.

“I don’t remember a time in my tenure in sports car racing which goes back a long time that we’ve had an active F1 driver on the grid,” Atherton said to IMSA Wire, adding, “and to have an active F1 driver of Alonso’s credentials … is nothing short of remarkable.

“Of course, his debut at Indy last year cannot be overstated in terms of the impact it had. It created a groundswell of interest in the United States and overseas.

“It will be significant and certainly with what this race represents and uniqueness of him competing in a multi-class race over 24 hours. The dynamics of that … we all saw remarkable embrace of his ability to compete in highest level at the Indy 500 and I think we will see the same here.”

While it’s unlikely Alonso will have a repeat performance at Indy this May due to his F1 obligations, this weekend will allow him to check off Daytona from his bucket list, much like he did with Indy last year.

“You smell motor racing here,” Alonso said. “That’s a good feeling for any driver. The speedway is amazing. The size of everything is just huge. I imagine this grandstand full of people for the NASCAR race would be an amazing thing to experience.”

Alonso still has one other race to check off his bucket list, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it’s unclear when that may reach fruition.

Much like location, location, location is key in selling real estate and buying a house, scheduling, scheduling, scheduling is the biggest obstacle for the perennial busy Alonso to overcome if he is to race at Le Mans, in NASCAR or even making a return visit to the Indy 500.

But for now, he was able to fit the Rolex 24 into his schedule and is looking forward to what he’ll experience this weekend.

“This is first time for me in an endurance race,” he told IMSA Wire. “First time for me in a prototype car. First time driving at night. First time driving with GTs around. Many new things will come. Step by step.

“That’s quite a big challenge but I’m ready to join. And as it happened in Indianapolis, if you feel great opportunity and you feel competitive, you go for it.”

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.”