INDIANAPOLIS – “This is the biggest race I’ve ever won in my life!”
Like clockwork, the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires delivered again. Oliver Askew took an exhilarating photo-finish victory Friday in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires premier race during Miller Lite Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 22-year-old Floridian started eighth and methodically put together moves before making a last-gasp dash to beat Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman at the finish line by a tight 0.0067 of a second – the fourth-closest finish in the event’s 17-year history – to take his third win of the 2019 season.
“I cannot believe it. It's insane. Those are just the words that I can find to describe that,” said Askew, driver of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara IL-15.
“This is the biggest race I’ve ever won in my life! I've never raced in front of this many people and I'm beginning to realize what just happened. I wouldn't want to win with any other team. I wouldn't want to win against another driver in Ryan Norman. He's really good around this track and he was one of the top guys to beat here.”
Starting second, Norman jumped to the lead quickly in the No. 48 Andretti Autosport entry and appeared to have the dominant car. Norman led 29 of 40 laps on the 2.5-mile oval.
But on the final lap, he attempted to run wide off of Turn 4 to stall the momentum of the charging Askew, who dove inside instead and won the sprint to the finish. Although the move wasn’t enough to prevent the heartbreaking defeat, it did provide Norman promise with his best result of the season.
“My plan really through the first three-quarters of the race was just kind of stay up from, keep the front tires clean,” said Norman.
“Last year when I stayed back farther in the group, my front (tires) fell off pretty hard and I was getting a lot of push. So I just tried to stay up as much as I can, knowing that I was saving my front tires. Then with about 10 laps ago, that's really when that battling starts. And at that point you really can't plan it.”
Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Juncos Racing) was Norman’s sparring partner for the top spot for much of the afternoon, leading six laps before fading late to third. While a loss at the Brickyard is tough to swallow, the 18-year-old Dutchman tried to remain positive and focused on the championship. He trails Askew by 11 points after seven of 16 races.
“It's not bad at all and I think I we showed some nice racing and some nice three-wide,” VeeKay said, “but, no, the goal of course was to win this race.
“This is just a spectacular race to win this, but you cannot always win, and I think this is a little bit of a strategic gamble game of who is going to get the best position for the start/finish line on the last lap. It's a little bit of mixed feelings, but I think we really showed what we could do.”
The race struggled to get out of the blocks. Jarett Andretti (No. 18 Andretti Autosport), in his Indy Lights debut, spun on the pace lap coming to the green flag, which put the first race lap under yellow. The son of former Indy car and NASCAR driver John Andretti, he recovered to run a clean race to finish sixth.
Pole sitter Robert Megennis (No. 27 Andretti Autosport) led the field to the green flag on Lap 2, but moments later David Malukas (No. 78 BN Racing) spun entering Turn 4 and collected USAC standout Chris Windom (No. 17 Belardi Auto Racing). The incident saw Windom’s car climb over Malukas and slide along the top of the SAFER Barrier before coming to rest on the track. Both drivers climbed out of their cars under their own power, but the race was red-flagged for a brief time to allow repairs to the barrier.