James Hinchcliffe

The most memorable moments of IndyCar 2014 (so far)

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Every race has that one moment that people remember. Sometimes, it’s good. Sometimes, it isn’t. But it sticks with you.

This year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season is coming to a close on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway (9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra), and while there’s still 500 miles to go, now’s an opportune time to revisit 2014’s most memorable moments – so far.

You’ll notice in the collection of videos below that for the doubleheader weekends at Detroit, Houston, and Toronto, we’ve opted to go with the best moment from the entire weekend itself. Rest assured that this is only meant for the sake of brevity.

And now, away we go…

FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG

Will Power’s season-opening victory at St. Petersburg wasn’t altogether smooth. Coming to a restart with 28 laps to go as the leader, Power appeared to slow down instead of accelerate (skip to 1:55 in the video above).

That caused the field to stack up, and in the process, Jack Hawksworth hit another car from behind before collecting Marco Andretti.

Power held the lead on the subsequent restart with 23 laps left and went on to win. But the earlier incident led to divided opinions among drivers and team owners on whether Power deserved blame for it.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH

Ryan Hunter-Reay was contending for victory in the streets of Long Beach, but with 25 laps to go, he pretty much threw the afternoon away for himself and several others.

A quick pit stop for Josef Newgarden enabled him to come out with the race lead ahead of Hunter-Reay. But instead of biding his time, Hunter-Reay made a risky passing attempt on Newgarden at Turn 4 – and mayhem ensued.

Not one of the 2012 IndyCar champion’s finer moments.

BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK

Hunter-Reay was able to bounce back from that lowlight with a victory in the next race at Barber Motorsports Park. But the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama may have gone Power’s way, if not for an early error at the track’s “Charlotte’s Web” hairpin at Turn 5.

Power was holding a comfortable lead at Lap 15, when he locked up going into T5 and went into the gravel trap (skip to :18 in the video above). He swiped a tire barrier on his way out, but while he was able to get back on course, he’d lost the lead to Hunter-Reay in the meantime. RHR scored the win, while Power finished fifth.

GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS

A solid crowd and beautiful weather greeted the drivers as they made their way to the grid for the standing start. But pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled (skip to :25 of the video above), causing a mad scramble behind him to get away from his No. 17 KV/AFS Racing Chevrolet.

Unfortunately, both Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin got into Saavedra, spraying debris everywhere along the front-stretch. It wasn’t the only wild crash of the afternoon, which eventually ended with Simon Pagenaud atop the podium.

INDIANAPOLIS 500

Ryan Hunter-Reay vs. Helio Castroneves for racing’s biggest prize. Nothing more needs to be said. Skip to 7:20 for the good stuff.

Honorable mention to Kurt Busch.

CHEVROLET INDY DUAL IN DETROIT

Power won Race 1 of the Detroit doubleheader at Belle Isle Park, but it was his drive in Race 2 that may be equally memorable. On the first lap of that race, Power attempted to get past Newgarden on the inside but instead made contact that led Newgarden into collecting two other drivers.

Race Control tagged Power for avoidable contact. The Twittersphere cheered. And the Aussie was chastened. Actually, no, the last part didn’t occur. If anything, it just seemed to fire him up as Power roared all the way from the back of the field after the penalty to finish second behind Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.

Oh, what the reaction would have been if Power ended up one spot higher…

FIRESTONE 600 AT TEXAS

Ed Carpenter and Power appeared set to have an old-fashioned Texas duel for the win when the two made their final pit stops together with 36 laps left. But Power was hit with a drive-through penalty for speeding (penalties were a recurring theme for him until just recently).

Smooth sailing then for Carpenter, right? Wrong. A caution with less than 10 laps left gave Power the chance to go in for new tires before a restart with two laps to go.

But while Power rocketed to second with the fresh rubber, he ran out of time to catch Carpenter. With that, the IndyCars’ sole owner/driver joined his road and street course racer, Mike Conway, as a 2014 race winner.

SHELL/PENNZOIL GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON

Who had Carlos Huertas as the first of this year’s crop of IndyCar rookies to win a race? Be honest, we don’t like liars here.

The result that no one saw coming went down in the first race of the Houston weekend. Huertas stayed out during a caution with less than half an hour to go in the race, and he eventually took control of the lead. The Colombian was able to hold off Juan Pablo Montoya until another caution came out with four minutes left.

Everything was set for a restart with one lap to go, but Graham Rahal got into the back of Tony Kanaan as the field headed for what would have been the green flag. Race Control waved off the restart, giving the upset win to the previously unheralded Huertas.

POCONO INDYCAR 500

The first 158 laps at Pocono went by under green – and with minimal drama. But that changed following the race’s lone restart.

Under attack from teammate (and eventual race winner) Montoya, Power went to defend his lead and knocked Montoya’s front wing end plate off. Montoya was still able to take the lead shortly afterwards, leaving Power to deal with Castroneves.

But when Castroneves went for an inside pass on Power with 28 laps left, Power tacked to the inside twice and forced Castroneves to back off. Race Control told Power to serve a drive-through penalty for blocking, which helped send him to a 10th-place finish.

IOWA CORN INDY 300

You saw it. Yet you couldn’t quite believe it.

During the final caution of the Iowa Corn Indy 300, both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden rolled the dice, went to the pits, and got new tires ahead of a restart with nine laps to go.

The decision paid off handsomely as the two Americans went through the field like a hungry kid going through an Iowa corn on the cob. And with three laps left, Hunter-Reay caught Tony Kanaan before making the race-winning pass in Turn 1. Newgarden also got past Kanaan in the waning moments for a runner-up.

HONDA INDY TORONTO

Sebastien Bourdais, the four-time king of Champ Car, had not won an American open-wheel race since 2007.

But in the first race of a same-day doubleheader in Toronto, the Frenchman led most of the proceedings from pole before claiming a long-awaited victory for himself and for KV Racing Technology (which had not won themselves since the 2013 Indy 500 with Tony Kanaan).

HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO

Scott Dixon winning at Mid-Ohio after qualifying 22nd? That couldn’t possibly happen, we thought.

But a brilliant all-around performance that featured stellar driving from the New Zealand native and impeccable strategy from his Chip Ganassi Racing team enabled Dixon to earn one of the greatest victories of his career.

Meanwhile, Newgarden had to see a potential first IndyCar win go by the boards thanks to numerous errors on a Lap 65 pit stop. Those problems led to a devastating drive-through penalty that ruined his race.

But instead of frustration, Newgarden showed remarkable poise. There’s a reason why this guy is a fan favorite.

ABC SUPPLY WISCONSIN 250

Nobody had really taken control of the IndyCar championship when the series visited the Milwaukee Mile with three races left in the season.

But Power finally stepped up, and he made his biggest statement of the year. Despite having to save fuel late, Power was still able to leave second-place Montoya stuck in lapped traffic before taking the checkered flag.

And as a driver that was once pegged as a non-factor on ovals, Power relished the moment: “Yes! Man, I love winning on ovals,” he yelled with delight.

GoPro GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA

Last weekend’s race at Sonoma had been owned lock, stock, and barrel by Power until he lost the race off pit road to Dixon under a caution. Then, after restarting seventh on Lap 40 behind Dixon and a group of drivers that had stayed on track, Power spun in Turn 7.

The incident forced Power to rally for a 10th-place finish after falling back as far as 20th. It was a great recovery for sure, and instead of his points lead over Castroneves shrinking, it increased to the current 51-point margin.

But on the other hand, had Power not spun and went on to win instead of Dixon, would we even have a championship battle to talk about right now?

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