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Austin Forkner: When hyperbole simply isn’t enough

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There are times when hyperbole is simply not enough.

Austin Forkner was perfect through the first two rounds of the Supercross 250 East schedule, winning every heat and feature he entered, and it was quickly noted that no one had ever gotten off to as strong a start.

The rush to proclaim his perfection was because a Triple Crown at Ford Field in Detroit lurked next on the schedule.

Since the debut of the Triple Crown in 2018 – an event in which three Main Events are averaged to provide an overall winner – no one had managed to sweep all three races. Surely that would put an end to Forkner’s perfection. This format had not been particularly kind to him in 2018.

Forkner gave the field a glimmer of hope in qualification when he allowed Chase Sexton to post a faster time in the second session. Then, he let Jordon Smith lead the first lap of Main 1. It would turn out to be the only lap another rider would lead all evening. Forkner took the lead from Smith on Lap 2 and stretched his advantage to more than 10 seconds at the checkers.

Forkner led the next two Mains flag-to-flag to add another first to his record. One week after being hailed as the first rider to be perfect in the opening two rounds of a 250 Supercross season, he became the first rider ever to sweep a Triple Crown – and in the process, extended his perfection to three rounds.

Forkner’s success fits in the context of the Supercross season as a whole. In the 450 class, Cooper Webb seemingly came from nowhere to lead the division after finishing ninth in the standings last year. Forkner was fourth in the East standings in 2018, but nearly 60 points (the equivalent of about 2.5 races) behind the champion Zach Osborne

What are the odds of Forkner extending his winning streak to four? That depends on exactly what statistic one credits most.

Forkner and the Supercross East riders head to Atlanta this weekend. Last year, this was Round 3 of their season and it was a Triple Crown event. Forkner won his second consecutive race ahead of Zach Osborne. While he took the overall victory, Forkner failed to win any of the mains with a best of second in Main 2. By comparison, Osborne won Main 1 and tied in points, but Forkner won the tiebreaker because he had the best finish – a third to Osborne’s fifth – in the final main.

Atlanta is the first of two Showdown events pitting the best East rider against the best of the West. Last year, Forkner finished sixth in a Showdown race at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. He missed the second Showdown at Las Vegas after sustaining an injury at Minneapolis in another Triple Crown event, so it is unclear how he will fare against that group of riders.

There’s a great thing about records, however; no matter how Round 4 plays out, no one can take away Forkner’s achievement. He remains the most perfect rider this deep into a season even if he struggles in Atlanta. At least until a more perfect rider comes along in the future.

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

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