(Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski dominates, but Joey Logano is race leader halfway at Kentucky

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Joey Logano beat Team Penske teammate and race pole-sitter Brad Keselowski off pit road during a caution for debris on Lap 127 and is still at the front of the field at the halfway point of Saturday’s 267-lap Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

It was the second time Logano had beaten his teammate off pit road to assume the lead in the race. But there’s no overlooking the fact that Keselowski dominated most of the first half of the race, leading all but 13 of the first 133 laps.

Keselowski is in pursuit of his second win in the four Sprint Cup races held to date at Kentucky, having won in 2012.

Behind race leader Logano were Keselowski in second, Ryan Newman in third, Kyle Busch in fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger.

Keselowski had held on to the lead from the start, pacing the field for the first 79 laps.

Kyle Busch, who hoped to earn his second win of the weekend (he won Thursday’s Camping World Truck Series race), started 18th but worked his way into the top 10 fairly quickly.

By Lap 50, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle were running 26th and 27th, making no progress from their original qualifying spots of 23rd and 24th, respectively.

The first caution of the race came on Lap 29 when Denny Hamlin suffered a blown tire that threw his Toyota into the Turn 4 wall and caused extensive damage to his Camry.

As a result, NASCAR chose to make that slowdown in the action to serve as a scheduled competition caution that was due to come on Lap 30 because of rain that had been forecast for the area (but did not come).

“I didn’t expect that at all,” Hamlin told TNT. I just heard it pop. It was very reminiscent of last year. … I wish we could have seen how far we could have went into the night.”

On Lap 77, rookie Kyle Larson suffered a similar fate to Hamlin, bringing out the caution when his car appeared to lose a tire and wrecked coming out of Turn 1, also sustaining significant damage.

“I blew a right front,” Larson said. “We were hoping for a big points day before we go to Daytona, where it’s a real crap shoot.

“Oh well, we’ll go to Daytona and try to rebound and gain some more points. … I guess I just used up my tires too much.”

On the resulting pit stop, as he has several times already this season, Kevin Harvick – who won Friday’s Nationwide Series race – once again was victimized by costly mistakes by his pit crew. He came onto pit road in second position, but a dropped lug nut extended Harvick’s stay in the pits and he exited 16th.

Also under that same caution, Keselowski lost the lead for the first time of the evening when Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano beat Keselowski out off pit road.

Logano led five laps under caution but Keselowski regained the lead spot for nearly a lap before Logano took back the advantage. Keselowski then bounced back on Lap 88 and once again began the same kind of domination he showed in the first 79 laps around the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

The third caution of the night occurred on Lap 127 for debris. Logano once again emerged in the lead, while Keselowski left pit road having dropped from the race lead to fourth.

Also on that stop, Jeff Gordon suffered a rare air gun failure, dropping him from seventh to 24th.

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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