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What might the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule look like?

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When NASCAR chairman Brian France said recently that he expected only minor changes to the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule, fans and media immediately began speculating on what those tweaks might be.

There may not be wholesale changes, based upon what France said, but next year’s Cup slate will look at least a little different. Based upon various sources and things we’ve heard and/or read, we’re going to chime in with our ideas and why we think that way. Granted, this is all speculation, but there’s a good likelihood of at least some of these guesses happening.

First off, we expect Darlington to become the second race of the season, one week after the season-opening Daytona 500. We’ve heard a number of rumors on this and, frankly, it makes sense.

Darlington’s weather in late February is typically in the 60s, sometimes in the 70s. While we would prefer to see The Lady In Black go back to her long-traditional Labor Day weekend slot, or even the Mother’s Day weekend slot, we think this could be a good place on the schedule for the Track Too Tough to Tame.

If that happens, look for the next several races to be pushed back at least a week, which should be a big boon weather-wise for places like Bristol and Texas, that often are affected by cold temperatures and inclement weather early in the season.

And, if Darlington does take Phoenix’ usual spot as the No. 2 race of the season, we’ve heard a couple of different angles about what happens to the early season race in the Valley of the Sun.

The first rumor we heard was that Phoenix will follow Darlington, essentially being pushed back a week, and then have Las Vegas follow the next week, as has been the case for the last several years.

If that happens, we’d likely see Bristol pushed back to the last week of March, Fontana to the first weekend of April and Texas pushed back to the second weekend of April.

Here’s what we think the early season schedule may look like: Daytona, Darlington, Las Vegas, Bristol, Fontana, Phoenix, Martinsville and Texas, taking us into the middle of April, before the first of three scheduled off-weekends would occur.

There’s also a slight variable that could happen: Daytona, Darlington, Las Vegas, Fontana, Bristol, Martinsville, Phoenix and Texas or Texas and then Phoenix.

To cluster Las Vegas and Fontana, and then Phoenix and Texas (or vice-versa) would make a great deal of sense geographically and expense-wise for teams.

As for the rest of the season, rumors have flown for the last several years that the Brickyard 400 would become the kickoff race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup in September, and that Chicagoland would move from its current spot as Chase opener to a mid-to-late July Saturday night race, essentially flip-flopping dates with Indy.

Could those rumors finally come true in 2015?

We’ll find out when NASCAR officially releases the schedule, expected to occur sometime in late September. Again, everything is speculation at this point, but it should be interesting to see which guesses and rumors actually prove to be true in the long run.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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