Askew Posts Steady INDYCAR debut in Texas
 June 10, 2020| 
  • Series News
Askew Texas

Saturday’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway might not have been the debut event that Oliver Askew had envisioned since capturing the 2019 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship title, with the global COVID-19 pandemic delaying the start of the NTT INDYCAR Series season for nearly three months.

16CO7204-1What was in the game plan was the execution of a smart and patient race strategy that impressed viewers and placed him ninth in the final box score. That finish placed him in a tie with Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward and fellow series champions Sage Karam and Bryan Herta for the second-highest NTT INDYCAR Series debut performance from an Indy Lights graduate.

Saturday was a day of firsts for the 23-year-old Floridian: first INDYCAR race, first night race, first ever pit stops. But given his three years on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, with two championship titles in hand, the new sensations were outweighed by his signature calmness and focus on the task at hand. With no spectators in the grandstands and a socially-distanced paddock, Askew took to the single-day event with limited distractions and the AMSP team game plan foremost in his mindset.

“It didn’t feel like my first INDYCAR race, really,” said Askew. “It felt like a test session, and that’s how I wanted to think of it as well because that took the expectations and the pressure out of it. I felt really relaxed. There were no distractions, though in the back of my mind, I knew the race was on primetime network television and that so many people were watching. I was calm sitting in the car on the grid, I felt like I’d been there before. I was consumed by the game plan, and I was glad that was where my head was at. I was in a good headspace and that came from the people in my ear and the people around me including [spotter] Brian Robson, [race strategist and team director of competition] Bill Vincent and [engineer] Blair Perschbacher.”

_4CJ1097AAskew paced himself through Saturday’s sessions, managing the multitude of factors affecting the car’s performance including the weather conditions (ambient temperatures reaching into the mid-90s and track temps nearing 140 degrees F), the new aeroscreen package and the after effects of the NASCAR sealant that changed the racing line. But in that regard, Texas might have been the perfect debut event for both Askew and O’Ward as neither had raced at Texas before, so there were no issues with relearning the racing line or dealing with the 35-lap tire limit. Qualifying 20th, Askew and the team had a quite simple game plan: finish the race.

“My mindset going into the race was not to make any mistakes. I wanted to err on the side of caution and let the race come to us, let other drivers make mistakes. I don’t think I passed anyone on track for position, all my passes were in pit lane and taking advantage of other drivers’ impatience. That was the plan going in and we executed it perfectly.”

Pundits have long pointed to pit stops as one of the biggest areas of adjustment for Road to Indy graduates as they move up the ladder. None of the three series – Indy Lights, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship – employ pit stops during races lasting between 30 and 60 minutes. Askew admits to a degree of concern about making sure he wasn’t the weak link in the team’s pit stop strategy.

_JGS-2020-26125-1“In the months and days leading up to the event, I kept thinking about that first pit stop. I did not want to mess up my first stop! I sometimes over-think things, and I would worry about being too cautious coming to the box and not having that fluid, quick stop because I was thinking about it too much. But Saturday, I didn’t have time to think. There was so much happening that it was over before I knew it, and it went perfectly. So that’s a lesson to just let my natural instincts take over. The crew work was flawless. But even so, I feel as though there’s room for improvement. I felt that my approach to the box was very conservative, so know that we’ll keep getting better.

“But we were the fourth-quickest team on pit lane and that’s even more exciting to me than finishing in the top 10.”

Both Askew and fellow INDYCAR rookie Rinus VeeKay have make remarkably quick progress in their racing careers, graduating from karts to the NTT INDYCAR Series in only four years. Askew attributes his success in adjusting to his new reality to the years spent in the Road to Indy, competing at race weekends alongside INDYCAR, and especially his championship season in Indy Lights behind the wheel of the car most consider the Indy car’s little brother, the Dallara IL-15.

16CO9295-1“There wasn’t anything that surprised me, and I attribute that to running the Road to Indy, at places like Gateway and Indianapolis last year in Indy Lights. That definitely helped the transition. I wasn’t caught off guard by the way the car was reacting around other cars and in dirty air – you’re just going way faster now. The Indy car does everything better, but the scale is the same, the ratios are the same. It’s a more complete race car but the feelings and sensations, especially on an oval, are the same, and that was a positive takeaway from Saturday night.”

In the end, Askew knows that the future is never guaranteed and that a driver is only as good as last week’s race result or championship finish. The only factor he can truly control is himself, and his strategy is to ensure that the mental game plan he employed through his three years on the Road to Indy remains the same as he achieves his INDYCAR dream.

“The mindset never changes. I will always keep my humble approach. But each of the past four seasons has been such a learning year; I’ve never been able to settle in and grow naturally in an environment until now. But there were so many takeaways from my time in the Road to Indy, even going back to USF2000. Structure of the race weekends, how the cars drive – I took a lot from that as I moved up the ladder. I was fortunate to have that learning program leading me into my first INDYCAR season.”

Photos courtesy INDYCAR/IMS Photo

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