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Pagenaud happy to finish P2, but Penske team struggles in Texas

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As hard as it is to believe, Simon Pagenaud entered Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 without a podium finish to his name in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The year has actually been very problematic for Pagenaud, with three finishes of 13th or worse – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was the low-point of the year, as he finished 24th following a Lap 1 crash after contact with Graham Rahal.

Yet, finishes of ninth (the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama), eighth (the INDYCAR Grand Prix), and sixth (the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500), along with a 10th in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit gave Pagenaud a little bit of momentum entering Texas on Saturday night, and he leaves Texas with a lot more momentum on his side.

Pagenaud managed to outduel the hard-charging Alexander Rossi in the final laps to finish second, his best result of 2018.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, and Alexander Rossi, driver of the #27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda, race during the Verizon IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

For Pagenaud, the result is a much-needed shot in the arm as he hopes to jumpstart his 2018 season.

“Just to get a good result like this for us, I think the 22 team needed a break. I think we got one tonight. For DXC, it’s pretty awesome. We had about three thousand employees from DXC tonight, so it was good to have a good showing.”

Pagenaud added, “This year’s been a tough start. There were a lot of unknowns. Got taken out a few times, which hasn’t happened in the past. It’s not all unknown, not easy to understand. From then on, luck always turns around. It goes by cycle. Now it’s about executing. Myself, everybody on the team, really executed well today. It’s a good example of what we need to do every weekend.”

Pagenaud’s result serves as the highlight of an otherwise tough night for Team Penske. All three drivers battled tire blistering, with pole sitter Josef Newgarden making an unscheduled pit stop on lap 97, which dropped him from contention – he eventually finished 13th after getting a penalty for jumping a restart with 34 laps to go.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, pits during the Verizon IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“You know, pretty much anything bad that could have happen happened tonight for the No. 1 Verizon team,” Newgarden lamented. “Everyone worked real hard and the guys gave me a great car. Everyone did everything they could tonight. It was a great effort from my team. Pretty much, anything that could have went wrong went wrong tonight. That is all there is to it. We will move on to Road America.”

Teammate Will Power suffered even more misfortune, crashing out on Lap 205 with Dale Coyne Racing’s Zachary Claman De Melo – Claman De Melo had a run on the outside of Power exiting Turn 4, but he washed up into the rookie driver, causing both to hit the wall.

Blame was ultimately assigned to Power, who will be assessed a post-race penalty for avoidable contact.

“The guys in front of me were saving a lot of fuel and completely lifting to try and make it and (Claman De Melo) went around on the outside. Unfortunately, the timing stand was talking to me at that exact moment and I couldn’t hear my spotter call, “Outside,” and there was someone outside at that point. It’s just a bad situation, but something that happens at a track like this. It was not (Claman De Melo’s) fault,” Power said of the incident.

Power’s crash dropped him to third in the championship, 36 points behind new points leader Scott Dixon, while Newgarden remains in fifth, 68 points out of the lead. Pagenaud, meanwhile, moved up to eighth, and is 60 points behind Newgarden for fifth in the standings.

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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.”