Cheez-It 355 - Practice

After crash at Texas, Jeff Gordon forging ahead

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After suffering a tire failure and crashing early during Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon was watching the race in his hauler as his crew feverishly worked to repair his wounded car.

He couldn’t believe what was happening.

“I was just sitting there going, ‘I can’t believe this,'” Gordon said today in a teleconference about having to comprehend that moment on Sunday. “I felt like I was in a bad dream and I was going to wake up any second. The longer the time went by, the more and more I realized this is reality.”

It’s been a rollercoaster fall for Gordon. He had initially missed out on the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but in the wake of the Richmond race manipulation scandal, he was added to the Chase as a 13th competitor. And to use parlance from another sport, he took the ball and ran with it.

He steadily rose into the Top 5 of the championship before finally claiming his first win of the season at Martinsville on Oct. 27 – a win that truly put him in the championship hunt. But on Lap 74 during Sunday’s race, his left-front tire blew out, causing him to slam into the wall.

Gordon would return to the track but not until late in the running. With a 38th-place result at Texas, his chances of attaining a fifth Sprint Cup are pretty much non-existent as he sits in sixth place at 69 points behind teammate and championship leader Jimmie Johnson.

The approach to the final two races of the season won’t change for Gordon and his team. But the goal certainly has, and they’ll have to make the most of the situation.

“I really just wanted to get to Homestead with a shot, you know, with a mathematical shot at this championship because I think we could put some pressure on them, have a shot at winning that race,” he said.

“Now, yeah, it’s, ‘Okay, how high up in points can we get?’ You’re still dealing with the same thing. It’s just one is the championship and the other one is maybe a third or fourth in points. That will all be reevaluated after we go through this next weekend’s race in Phoenix.”

Gordon stands a good shot of at least pulling into the Top 5 again by season’s end, which would be a nice accomplishment.

But he also remembers the uneven regular season that he and his team had this year, and he knows that had there been more consistent results in the first 26 races, he probably wouldn’t have needed that 13th Chase spot bestowed to him by NASCAR in the Richmond aftermath.

Still, he credited his team for its perseverance in a year that has tested them severely at times.

“We never stopped trying to make our cars better, getting me to feel that I need to go out there and have confidence in the car and have the speed,” he said. “We’ve done a great job of that.

“That’s what we’re going to take out of this year’s Chase as well, is that depending on how many changes happen for 2014, that we have a team that can fight, that can find a way to get where we need to be by the end of the season.”

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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Simon Pagenaud
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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway