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NASCAR: Shepherd/Logano contact creates more questions than answers

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Two days after one of NASCAR’s youngest full-time competitors got collected by its oldest competitor – part-time or otherwise – there’s more questions than answers that must come out of the contact.

On Lap 212 on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the AutoTrader.com Ford driven by Team Penske’s Joey Logano got looped around by Morgan Shepherd, in the underfunded Circle Sport Chevrolet, entering Turn 3. Logano’s 24; Shepherd is three times his senior, age 72.

The resulting Logano interview and the TV camera angle didn’t give a great deal away, other than it showed Shepherd moving up the road slightly and enough to contact Logano. There’s not enough shown to potentially alleviate Shepherd of blame; say the angle at which he entered lower into Turn 3 was enough to send the car up the road.

An unlikely war of words has followed.

Logano, in his immediate post-race interview: “To get taken out by the slowest car – I feel like there should be a driver’s test when you get out in a Cup car and make sure you know how to drive it before you [race] one. But I don’t know, I guess there isn’t.”

And Shepherd, defending himself, via NASCAR.com: “Maybe he didn’t realize how wicked loose I was; I was having to tiptoe through the corner.”

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton defended Shepherd and told reporters post-race, to the letter of the law, Shepherd was all clear to race.

“He’s been approved for decades,” he said. “You take a physical at the beginning of the year. You pass your physical. You pass inspections with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. He met everything he needed to meet.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t guard against questions raised in the approval process to race.

So, a few questions I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering as a result of this contretemps:

  • What is involved in the physical beyond standard procedure? How are reaction times determined? Is there an eyesight check?
  • Why do smaller teams, such as Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing operation, look for a driver like Shepherd to fill in at this type event instead of a younger driver, even one who could bring money?
  • Why does Shepherd, who’s been accomplished in the past, but in the 1980s and 1990s, want to subject himself and his reputation to this kind of criticism? What does he have to gain other than setting the record for being a septuagenarian on-track in the highest division of NASCAR?
  • If Shepherd’s car was as loose as he claims, why was a call not placed to the No. 33 team to pit?
  • How does NASCAR guard against this level of accident – where regardless of age, someone running so far off the pace could potentially be hazardous – could affect the Chase for the Sprint Cup? Especially in the new elimination format where there are fewer races to advance.

Answers from the sanctioning body need to be forthcoming fairly soon, and it would probably behoove NASCAR in the offseason, if not sooner, to examine its criteria for both minimum speed requirements and performing more stringent tests on older drivers seeking to compete.

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