(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Kyle Larson has solid outing in first Brickyard 400

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INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gordon gave himself an early 43rd birthday present with Sunday’s Brickyard 400 win.

Kyle Larson also gave himself an early birthday present – his 22nd will be Thursday – with a solid seventh-place finish in his first Brickyard.

“It was a good day for us,” said Larson, the highest-finishing rookie in the race. “We were a top-10 car the whole race. Had some good restarts there for most of the race. Then that last one we had to restart on the outside and lost a spot. We lined up fifth but Denny (Hamlin) got to third.

“But still a good day. The Target car was really good. We were just too tight on short runs, then we just kind of would build tighter, looser off. Everybody was struggling with grip out there.”

For Larson to be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on what became a historic day – Jeff Gordon’s record-breaking fifth Brickyard win – was exciting for him both as a fellow race car driver, as well as a fan.

“It was fun, cool to finish in the top 10 at the Brickyard,” Larson said. “To see Jeff Gordon win is pretty special. It’s kind of like Junior winning the 500 this year. It was a really good day for everybody and all the fans, too. So, I’m happy about it.”

His seventh-place outing was Larson’s second straight top-10 (he finished third two weeks ago at Loudon), making it appear he’s past his three-race rough stretch before New Hampshire, when he finished 28th at Sonoma, 40th at Kentucky and 36th at Daytona.

“I think everywhere you have to make sure it’s an important one to try to make the Chase because it’s getting closer and closer every week,” Larson said. “We can’t make any more mistakes or have any more bad luck.

“Every track is important to us right now. Now we get to go to Pocono next week where we finished fifth before. “(We’ve) set fifth as a goal, but hopefully we’ll try to do better.”

While Larson enjoyed the aura of the most legendary race track on earth, he tried to approach it without any special preconceptions.

“It was kind of just like any other race,” he said. “But restarts were definitely intense, just like they are everywhere. Inside lane was definitely the dominant one.

“For the most part if you were on the inside row, you were going to pass a couple cars. So, yeah, just being aggressive to try to gain as much as you could on restarts because it was really hard to pass once we got going. It’s frustrating that it is so hard to pass, but it makes you better at hitting your marks.”

With other drivers coming into the media center, Larson was asked one last question, wondering what his opinion can be done to the current crop of NASCAR cars to make them even better.

Not skipping a beat – nor overlooking his dirt track and sprint car roots – Larson deadpanned, “Cover it with dirt and put some wings on top.”

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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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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