IndyCarRobert Wickens, left, and teammate James Hinchcliffe attend a pre-race autograph session prior to Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway. Photo:

IndyCar: Robert Wickens recovering from spinal cord surgery; severity of injury uncertain

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Verizon IndyCar Series driver Robert Wickens is recovering from successful spinal surgery performed Monday evening in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

A team of doctors at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest operated on Wickens to stabilize a thoracic spinal fracture associated with a spinal cord injury, according to a statement released this morning by IndyCar officials.

Titanium rods and screws were successfully placed in Wickens’ spine during the surgery.

However, according to the IndyCar statement, “the severity of the spinal cord injury is indeterminate at this time.”

The statement added, “Wickens is expected to undergo further surgeries to treat fractures in his lower extremities and right forearm. He remains in stable condition.”

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Wickens was injured in a high-speed crash during the early stages of Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Wickens’ car touched wheels with the car of fellow competitor Ryan Hunter-Reay, sending Wickens’ car airborne and into the catchfence at the end of Turn 2.

Wickens’ car then spun several times in mid-air before landing on the racetrack and eventually coming to rest along the inside retaining wall.

It took rescue workers more than 12 minutes to carefully extricate Wickens from the mangled vehicle. He was immediately transported via helicopter to Lehigh Valley Hospital– Cedar Crest, about 45 minutes away from Pocono Raceway.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver is in his rookie season on the IndyCar circuit after a lengthy racing career in Europe.

Here is the full update statement from IndyCar:

Medical update on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens

ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania (Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018) – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens underwent surgery Monday, Aug. 20 at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest to stabilize a thoracic spinal fracture associated with a spinal cord injury sustained during the INDYCAR event at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, Aug. 19.

“Titanium rods and screws were placed successfully in Wickens’ spine during the surgery, which was performed without complication.

“The severity of the spinal cord injury is indeterminate at this time.

“Wickens is expected to undergo further surgeries to treat fractures in his lower extremities and right forearm. He remains in stable condition.

“Further updates will be provided when available.”

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Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”