‘I’m going to come back’: Robert Wickens discusses his recovery

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sidelined from racing since a spinal cord injury suffered in an Aug. 18, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway, Robert Wickens was back at his first IndyCar race this weekend.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver drew a warm welcome while making his way through the paddock at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Though he remains in a wheelchair, Wickens intends to race again because it’s all he ever has wanted and knows how to do.

“I’m too young to give that up,” Wickens told Kelli Stavast in a recent interview that will air during the prerace for Sunday’s NBCSN broadcast from St. Petersburg (which will begin at 12:30 p.m.). “I don’t care what I have to do. I don’t care how hard I have to work. I’m going to come back.”

The 2018 IndyCar rookie of the year said he didn’t fully grasp the extent of his recovery when he began the long and arduous rehabilitation. Doctors told his family he likely would have no movement or sensations in his legs for the first six months after the crash.

“Once I came to my senses and started investigating this injury on what recovery looks like, I really had a hard time finding it,” he said. “And I just had no idea what the recovery looked like. When I entered rehab, I was convinced it was just to get me walking and get back home. I had no idea that walking is like months, months, months down the road and you have to learn how to take care of yourself again.”

Wickens said he and fiancée, Karli Woods, cried when he experienced his first muscle flicker five weeks after the crash.

“That was the happiest day of our lives,” he said. “It was a little muscle twitch. And then from there, it went further and further. Everyone is being so supportive and so positive, and I’m only posting the positive (on social media), so sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh man, am I giving them a false indication on actually how my recovery is going?’

“It’s such an emotional roller coaster. Physically, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but mentally and emotionally, it’s like tenfold the hardest thing I’ve ever done. To try to find positives every day when there’s days when you’re just so angry, it’s really hard to do.”

You can watch Stavast’s interview with Wickens by clicking above or by watching the prerace show for Sunday’s St. Petserburg Grand Prix. Coverage of the event begins at 12:30 p.m.

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!