While five NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are in a battle for the Astor Challenge Cup, Oliver Askew is simply racing for a job, and he had a career-best day while doing it Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Askew made the Firestone Fast Six in just his fourth INDYCAR qualifying session this season. He earned the fifth starting spot for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network) with a best lap time of 1 minute, 11.8937 seconds.
The result tied Askew’s career-best start -- fifth last season at the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“I’m very happy with that run, obviously,” he said. “Very happy for our guys on the Hy-Vee No. 45 Honda and everyone at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. This is exactly what we needed. A good starting spot for tomorrow. Here, it’s important. As we know, it’s difficult to pass.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have a strong run.”
Askew has raced with three different teams this season. He finished 25th with engine issues in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet at Detroit’s second race while standing in for Felix Rosenqvist. Then, Askew finished 12th in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at Road America as a stand-in for Rinus VeeKay.
Last weekend at Portland International Raceway, Askew made his first of three starts in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda for RLL, but he finished 24th after being involved in a first-turn incident. He will finish out the INDYCAR season with the team next weekend in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Amid all the back-and-forth exchange of seats, Askew’s 12th-place run at Road America was his best finish this season as well as his best INDYCAR finish since he finished sixth at Iowa Speedway in 2020 driving for Arrow McLaren SP.
Askew’s best start this season had been ninth, which came last weekend at Portland International Raceway. In fact, Saturday’s performance at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was his best qualifying effort since he landed that top-five starting spot on the IMS road course in July 2020.
What’s more, Askew, 24, bested his RLL teammates that are competing full-time this season on Saturday. Graham Rahal qualified 12th in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda at 1:12.5932, and Takuma Sato will start 23rd in the No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda with a best lap time of 1:12.1443.
However, Askew isn’t letting his stellar performance get to his head. Right now, he’s just doing his job and not focusing on INDYCAR’s silly season and the stress of performing well during this three-week test run that could land him in the No. 45 car, or another ride, full-time in 2022.
Instead, Askew took note that he is wedged on the grid in between the top two drivers. Series points leader Alex Palou will start fourth, with second-place Pato O’Ward sixth. Palou leads O’Ward by 25 points heading to these final two races.
“I don’t want to be in the middle of them, but unfortunately I am starting directly in the middle of them,” Askew said. “I’m just going to race everyone cleanly and just focus on getting through Turn 1, unlike what happened at Portland last weekend.”
Come Sunday, Askew has a chance to shape what the 2022 season might look like for him. He has already outperformed his teammates this weekend by also posting the sixth-fastest time in Friday’s practice and backing it up with the 15th-fastest lap time in Saturday’s practice.
Only Rahal has contended with Askew this weekend by putting up the 14th-fastest time in the second practice.