Photo courtesy GrantEnfinger.com

After finishing 39th last year, Grant Enfinger wins ARCA opener at Daytona

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Grant Enfinger completed just 12 laps and finished next-to-last (39th) in last year’s season-opening ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway.

The only way for Enfinger to go was up.

And up he went indeed, as one year later, he rallied late in the race to capture Saturday’s season-opening Lucas Oil 200 at DIS.

“This is pretty special,” Enfinger said. “I felt like we were owed a few here. It was so heartbreaking a few years ago to lose some real close ones, so to get this one, Iowa and Mobile last year, really means the world to me.”

Enfinger essentially had a career season in just a part-time effort in 2013. While he started just eight of the season’s 21 races, he won two (Iowa and Mobile) and compiled four top-5 and five top-10 finishes.

Now, with hopes of running the entire ARCA schedule for just the second time in his career, the 29-year-old native of Fairhope, Ala., kicked things off in the best way possible.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” Enfinger said. “I think we’re going to be running for this thing (ARCA championship). I feel really strong about this team. We’re like the little engine that could, we have a lot of heart.”

Saturday’s finish was a far cry from his three previous starts at the legendary 2.5-mile high-banked track: 30th in 2010, ninth in 2011 and 39th in 2013.

“It means a lot to us,” team owner Howard Bixman said. “We work real hard every day. This is for my dad, he went in the hospital yesterday.”

Enfinger’s win marked the first time Ford has won an ARCA race at Daytona since Ryan Newman did so in 2001.

He also became the 37th different winner in 51 season-opening ARCA races at Daytona.

While Enfinger celebrated, Frank Kimmel once again left Daytona frustrated. While the series’ winningest driver (80 in 470 starts) finished runner-up at Daytona for the third time in his career, he came up short once more.

“We overachieved a lot today,” said Kimmel, who has seeking his 11th ARCA championship this season. “The guys worked so hard but we just didn’t have enough speed with the car when we needed it.”

Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the race after Enfinger’s win was the third-place finish by Clay Campbell – as in Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway.

Having just turned 54 on Feb. 7, Campbell was competing in just his fourth-ever ARCA race, driving a car owned by legendary NASCAR driver Ken Schrader.

“I couldn’t be happier being able to drive the Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet for Kenny Schrader,” Campbell said. “This is an icon and for me to drive this car and finish this well, I’m tickled to death.

“We were lucky enough to get through some of the skirmishes and that’s what we you’ve got to do. You’ve got to finish it and you’ve got to be there at the end to have a shot, and we did that.”

Campbell plans on racing again in April at Talladega. What about racing on his home track?

“I’ve got a day job there,” Campbell said with a laugh.

Rounding out the top-5 were Tom Hessert in fourth and Tyler Reddick in fifth.

Two names that received a lot of attention were youngsters Dylan Kwasniewski, who started from the pole and controlled much of the first half of the 85-lap race before fading to a 14th-place finish, as well as Chase Elliott (son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott), who finished ninth.

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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