NNS Notes: Kyle Larson finishes 3rd after hitting wall early

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After tagging the wall early on in today’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson wasn’t expecting to wind up with a third-place finish.

But the 21-year-old was able to overcome the run-in, which he said occurred just a few laps after the green flag flew.

“I don’t know what lap it was, Lap 2 or 3, but I got underneath Matt Kenseth and cleared him and the car got really loose,” Larson explained. “I got sideways, chased it up the track and hit the wall and then flung the right front over and hit that too. It hurt the splitter a little bit…All my guys did a great job to fix the car.

“I thought we were about a 6th-7th place car and until that last restart [with 33 laps to go], I wasn’t expecting to keep up with Kyle as long as I did. Hats off to all my guys for working hard and fixing the car that I tore up.”

The Sprint Cup rookie now shifts his focus to tomorrow’s Kobalt 400 main event, where he’ll start in 17th position.

“We made a lot of adjustments in ‘Happy Hour’ and got the car driving really well,” he said. “The grip off the corner got really good so we were able to maintain a good lap time for the averages. I’m excited about tomorrow. I think we have a good shot and our Target car is really fast, so I’ll try not to get in the wall or beat up the car early in the race.

“I’m sure the track’s gonna change a whole lot for tomorrow’s race. It changed a lot during the Nationwide race too, so we just gotta stay on top of that, make the right adjustments, and try to stay up front.”

It was another solid weekend for JR Motorsports, which continues to maintain the early lead in the Nationwide Series championship with Regan Smith and also got the first career NNS Top-5 result from rookie Chase Elliott.

Boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the team with a fourth-place result, while Elliott finished right behind him in fifth. Smith overcame a late run-in with the wall to finish 10th, ensuring that he’ll take a three-point edge in the standings over Trevor Bayne to next weekend’s event at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Elliott was especially impressive with how he was able to dice it up against established Sprint Cup stars such as Junior, winner Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.

Just as impressive was his avoidance of a spinning Kenseth with just over 40 laps remaining.

Kenseth had been battling Busch for the lead when he lost control in Turn 4. Elliott was behind the former Cup champion but managed to dodge him, while Kenseth managed to avoid the rest of the oncoming cars.

When the dust settled, Earnhardt praised Elliott for his performance.

“He’s better than he knows he is,” he told ESPN. “First of all, I never really spent much time around [Chase’s father and former Cup champion] Bill Elliott but I got a chance to work with him the last couple of weeks…He’s just really smart and I think just having that kind of intuition all through Chase’s career has really helped Chase along to where he’s a lot better than most rookies are when they come into this series.

“I’m really happy for him but I’m not surprised. The guy’s got a ton of talent and he’s gonna go a long ways. He’s just got a great mentor in his father and that’s made a big difference in his life.”

Earnhardt, who will return to the Nationwide Series next month at Texas Motor Speedway, later went on Twitter to give Smith a thumbs-up for enduring through a not quite great day to get a Top-10.

A rash of speeding penalties broke out in mid-race, but Richard Childress Racing’s Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan perhaps felt it most acutely.

Dillon won the pole earlier today and was running toward the Top 10 when green flag stops began on Lap 113. A few laps later, Dillon came in for service but was busted for speeding on pit road.

That forced the unhappy Dillon to serve a drive-through penalty on Lap 116. But then, on Lap 121, NASCAR hit Dillon once more for speeding in the pits and this time, he had to take a stop-and-go penalty.

Gaughan had a pair of speeding penalties called on him as well. Like Dillon, he did a drive-through on his first penalty only to be called back a second time for a stop-and-go.

Dillon and Gaughan soldiered on after the bizarre sequence to finish 11th and 16th respectively. Brian Scott led the RCR camp with a strong seventh-place finish.

Mazda Road to Indy 2018 schedules are released

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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A handful of minor tweaks have been made to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires schedules for the 2018 season, but they’re not too different than 2017 and largely mirror the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that was put out last week.

The full details are below.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires today unveiled its 2018 calendar of events. The most effective driver development program in the world with over $3.5M in scholarships and awards on offer will continue its momentum at premier road course, street circuit and oval venues in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The highly acclaimed platform – comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will enter the new season with a trio of state-of-the-art chassis on display including the much anticipated debut of the new Pro Mazda PM-18 which completes the revitalization of the entire ladder system.

On deck for 2018 is a return to the Pacific Northwest and Portland International Raceway (PIR) in Portland, Ore. The 1.967-mile, 12-turn permanent road course will host the season finale for all three series. Indy Lights last raced at PIR in 2001, and Pro Mazda and USF2000 in 2006. The last IndyCar race took place in 2007.

The month of May will bring several new additions. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will return to Lucas Oil Raceway for the Carb Night Classic “The Race Before the 500” after a year’s hiatus. Mere hours after the conclusion of Carb Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 – including the Freedom 100, the crown jewel on the Indy Lights schedule – the two series will make their appearance on the .686-mile oval.

Additionally, the three Indianapolis oval races will see an increase in points for all series for the first time, and an increase in prize money.

In Pro Mazda, the National Class will be replaced by the Pro Mazda Classic (PMC) Series – a six-weekend, 12-race championship within the Pro Mazda Championship utilizing the older Pro Mazda rotary-powered cars from 2002 to 2017. The series will see a separate points chart, prize money and year-end awards.

While there is no limitation on PMC Series testing, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 will see amended testing rules. Indy Lights in-season testing is restricted to two days per team with two additional days available for use with current Pro Mazda and USF2000 drivers. Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams are permitted four days of in-season testing per driver but not at tracks yet to hold an event. Each series will continue with open tests at select venues.

The annual Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23- 26. Indy Lights will test on the 1.5-mile oval on February 23 and the 2.21-mile road course on February 26. Pro Mazda and USF2000 will run on the weekend – February 24 and 25 – to assist young drivers juggling their schedules alongside school commitments.

The Mazda Road to Indy Summit program – providing valuable education on a variety of topics including marketing/business, media training, career growth and development, fitness, social media and a comprehensive oval clinic – will continue to be in place next season.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into our schedule and I am pleased with the balance we have in place to properly train drivers to move up the ladder,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “We are excited to have Portland on the schedule, which will be a great circuit for our season finales in the three series, and to return to Lucas Oil Raceway on Carb Day for a great night of racing. The Freedom 100 is obviously the biggest race on our calendar and to be able to bring Pro Mazda and USF2000 back into the excitement surrounding the Indianapolis 500 was key. Increasing both the points awarded and the prize money gives these events the weight they deserve.

“The Mazda Road to Indy will take on new life next year with the competition debut of the PM-18. This completes the process we began several years ago to provide the best for our competitors with state-of-the-art race cars. We have a great program in place and it’s working. As always, I am looking forward to seeing many of our drivers take their next steps up the ladder including our recently crowned champions.”

Indy Lights will feature a 17-race schedule at 10 venues comprised of three oval, five road course and two street circuit events. In addition to hour-long race broadcasts on NBCSN, Indy Lights will also be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on indylights.com and indycar.com.

Coverage of all Indy Lights sessions is available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 7-8 Iowa Speedway .894-mile oval
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course*
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events

Open tests are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 23 (oval) and 26 (road course), Barber Motorsports Park on March 5, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10 (road course) and 21 (oval), Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of nine test days.

Pro Mazda will expand to a nine-event, 16-race schedule which includes two ovals, five road course and two street course venues. Pro Mazda will be featured on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on promazda.com and indycar.com.

Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course* + PMC
April 20-22 Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile road course* + PMC
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course* + PMC
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course* + PMC
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course* + PMC
August 24-25 Gateway Motorsports Park 1.25-mile oval
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course* + PMC

*Doubleheader events
+ Pro Mazda Classic Series

A total of 10 open test days are scheduled at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, Barber Motorsports Park on March 3/4, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18.

The USF2000 series will continue with a 14-race format held at seven venues featuring one oval, four road course and two street circuit events. Coverage will be available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Xbox One as well as Road To Indy TV and on the Road To Indy TV App. Worldwide live streaming and live timing is also available on usf2000.com and indycar.com.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda 2018 Schedule

March 9-11 Streets of St. Petersburg, FL 1.8-mile street course*
May 10-12 Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.439-mile road course*
May 25 Lucas Oil Raceway .686-mile oval
June 22-24 Road America 4.014-mile road course*
July 13-15 Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1.786-mile street course*
July 27-29 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course 2.258-mile road course**
August 31-Sept. 2 Portland International Raceway 1.967-mile road course*

*Doubleheader events
**Tripleheader event

Open tests are schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 24/25, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, Road America on June 11/12 and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 17/18 for a total of eight test days.

Two events still remain on the 2017 calendar – the seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 21/22 and the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout on December 9/10 at the Bondurant Racing School near Phoenix, Ariz.