Daytona 500 - Practice

For Clint Bowyer, more winning and less drama the goal for 2014

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Some of Clint Bowyer’s month of February has involved hunting and dirt tracks, two parts of his life that are part of his roots, his core being.

The other focus of the month, obviously, is on beginning his third season with Michael Waltrip Racing and bouncing back in 2014 after a challenging 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Balancing that mix of “happy-go-lucky” and an ability to relate to the common fan, along with his driving prowess and focus on Sundays, will be key to seeing him return to the heights he achieved in his first year at MWR. That year, he finished second in points to Brad Keselowski in 2012.

Far too often in 2013, Bowyer and MWR came up on the unhappy side of the headlines. The Richmond saga stands out, but to Bowyer, the lack of wins on the whole was a more dispiriting part of the year.

“Richmond was tough, but the most frustrating thing for me was not winning a race, period,” Bowyer told MotorSportsTalk Wednesday.

“We couldn’t get the job done. Atlanta, we were so fast [he led 48 laps –Ed.]. It was the fastest car I’ve ever had. We set sail and were gone, and went so fast that the motor couldn’t keep up.”

He finished seventh in points, with 10 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. But he has the potential to improve on that in 2014 because unlike a number of high-profile drivers (Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and former MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr., among others) who are all switching teams and will need time to develop chemistry, Bowyer’s entrenched in a familiar environment.

For Bowyer, the foundation is there for his group at MWR in the No. 15 5-Hour Energy/PEAK Antifreeze Toyota team, led by crew chief Brian Pattie.

“Trust me, we’ve hunkered down and been hard at work,” he said. “We’ve gone to Nashville five or six times; done short-track running at New Smyrna. A lot of testing.

“Being together this long is key, because we haven’t really lost any assets on (the 15 team). We don’t have to start getting used to each other like guys that have shifted around. We know what to expect.”

Gaining Jeff Burton in the team’s third car for selected races, along with new full-time teammate Brian Vickers, Bowyer said will also make up for the team’s losses over the winter.

“We didn’t lose anyone on the 15, but no question we have lost some assets elsewhere,” Bowyer admitted. “(Crew chief Rodney) Childers was a big thing. The Martins (Mark Martin, Truex), losing them, you lose that database and great contribution they bring.

“But Burton I’ve worked with before. We speak the same language, same characteristics. He was a guy I leaned on early on in my career, and will do so again in the races he’s here.”

Bowyer and Burton were teammates at Richard Childress Racing from 2006 through 2011.

As for Daytona, the Toyotas have yet to show the pace of, ironically, the Childress-built Chevrolets thus far. Bowyer was the second fastest Toyota in qualifying … but only 20th overall, with Matt Kenseth best of the bunch in 17th.

Bowyer will start 10th for Budweiser Duel 2 on Thursday night. Despite the single-lap gap, Bowyer isn’t concerned the TRD brigade will be up against it for the rest of Speedweeks.

“I’ve learned not to put too much stock into what happens on qualifying day,” he said.

Where Bowyer was able to put some stock – and insight – was last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited. As he didn’t score a pole position in 2013, he wasn’t able to race in the event. He observed the race and engaged with fans from FOX Sports’ “Hollywood Hotel” in the infield.

“It started out single file and in the booth I wanted to be like, ‘C’mon guys,’” Bowyer said. “To be honest, they were knocking the rust off, and it was the first time on track racing in three months. Then they went all out, and it turned into a wild shootout.”

Additionally, one other area where Bowyer is offering his time and insight is in a role as a judge and coach of the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, which launched on Feb. 18th.

The PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge is a nationwide search to find an amateur racer who has what it takes to be a professional driver. More information is available at PEAKStockCarDream.com; 2013’s winner was Patrick Staropoli, a 24-year-old Floridian who Bowyer said “Made the most of his opportunity” in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts.

But overall, Bowyer’s got his observations and insights largely out of the way. Now it’s time to see how he does on track the rest of this week in Daytona, and for the rest of 2014 as he seeks a bounce back 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