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He’s back: Juan Pablo Montoya wins first IndyCar race in 14 years at Pocono (VIDEO)

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The comeback is complete.

After racing in Formula One from 2001-2006 and NASCAR from 2007-2013, former Indy 500 and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya returned to IndyCar racing this season.

His peers believed that it would only be a matter of time before Montoya recaptured his old magic, and sure enough, the Colombian has done just that by winning today’s Pocono IndyCar 500 at Pocono Raceway – his first IndyCar victory in 14 years (Sept. 17, 2000, Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill.).

Among the first things Montoya did in Victory Lane was thank team owner Roger Penske for giving him the opportunity to compete again in IndyCar.

“I want to thank Roger for believing in me – after how many years out of open wheel, to come back, he believed I could do it,” Montoya told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “And here we are. It’s awesome.”

After the first 158 laps ran under green (a new Verizon IndyCar Series record for a 500-mile race), Graham Rahal spun and made contact with the Turn 2 wall to bring out the first yellow of the day. Then on the restart at Lap 166, Montoya battled Team Penske teammate Will Power for the lead.

One lap later, the encounter led to a broken front wing endplate for Montoya. But he was able to get past Power with no visible decline in performance from his No. 2 PPG Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.

“Just a little more understeer,” Montoya said of how his car reacted after the incident. “I had to do it. It was one of those moves – I mean, you either do it or you don’t do it. That was the winning move, so I had to do it.”

Montoya gave up P1 in order to pit with 14 laps left, but when Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan couldn’t make their fuel strategies work in the final 10 laps – both pitted together on Lap 161 and did so again just before the restart to top off – Montoya returned to the front with four laps to go.

It was academic from there as Montoya went on to beat Penske teammate Helio Castroneves by 2.3 seconds. Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz claimed the final spot on the podium, while Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, both of Chip Ganassi Racing, finished fourth and fifth respectively.

As for Power, he once again ran afoul of Race Control on Lap 172 when he battled Castroneves down the front-stretch for position. Power appeared to block the Brazilian, and with 25 laps to go, Race Control black-flagged him and forced him to the pits for a drive-through penalty.

He ultimately finished 10th, enabling Castroneves to pull even with him atop the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings. Prior to today’s race, Power had led Castroneves by 39 points.

“I don’t know what to say – another penalty, another drive-through, another really good opportunity lost,” said Power, who has been called multiple times for various on-track violations this year.

Castroneves effectively put his hands up when asked about Power’s penalty.

“Unfortunately, I’m not the one that makes the calls,” he said. “But I think we’re really pushing hard. We’re fighting for the championship. In the end, it’s not my call.”

He was more effusive, however, about Montoya’s victory.

“That guy is unbelievable – coming back after [14] years and winning a race,” he continued. “He did a great job. As soon as he signed [with Team Penske], I knew he would be an asset – and a headache – for us.”

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – POCONO INDYCAR 500
Official Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed, reason out (if any):
1. (1) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
2. (7) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
3. (3) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 200, Running
4. (10) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
5. (15) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
6. (11) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 200, Running
7. (12) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 200, Running
8. (21) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 200, Running
9. (5) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 200, Running
10. (2) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
11. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
12. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, -1 lap
13. (13) Ed Carpenter, ECR-Chevy, 199, -1 lap
14. (16) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, -1 lap
15. (19) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, -1 lap
16. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, -1 lap
17. (17) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, -two laps
18. (9) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, Lap 181, Running
19. (14) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, Lap 157, Contact
20. (20) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, Lap 89, Electrical
21. (4) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, Lap 25, Electrical
22. (22) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 0, Did Not Start

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 202.402 mph
Time of Race: Two hours, 28 minutes, 13.1798 seconds
Margin of victory: 2.3403 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 6 laps
Lead changes: 16 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders
Power 1 – 30
Montoya 31 – 32
Power 33 – 49
Kanaan 50 -58
Power 59 – 61
Montoya 62 – 64
Kanaan 65 – 87
Montoya 88 -94
Kanaan 95 – 117
Montoya 118 – 125
Bourdais 126
Kanaan 127 – 147
Power 148 – 166
Montoya 167 – 187
Newgarden 188 – 194
Kanaan 195 – 196
Montoya 197 – 200

Point Standings
Power 446
Castroneves 446
Pagenaud 402
Montoya 391
Hunter-Reay 388
Munoz 340
Andretti 325
Dixon 297
Briscoe 285
Bourdais 271

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