Bowyer, Gordon return to Martinsville 1 year after big contact

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A year ago at the Martinsville Speedway spring race, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon collided on a late-race restart, with the contact also taking Jimmie Johnson out in the process.

It was a double-hit; it cost them all a shot at winning, and in particular, it cost Gordon and Johnson the chance to deliver Hendrick Motorsports their 200th victory in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.

A win at Martinsville for that milestone would have been poignant for Hendrick after a plane crash outside the track in October 2004 killed ten people, including Rick Hendrick’s son Ricky, team president John Hendrick and his two twin daughters.

The chaos happened because of a late caution when David Reutimann stopped on track, unable to get his stricken car into a safe area.

“He was running around slow; you got a problem, you really … get down and get on pit road,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of Reutimann after the race. “I don’t believe he had any trouble getting down. When we went by him the first time, he was low. I would like to hear a good excuse, to be honest with you, because I’m sure it would be laughable.”

Bowyer and Gordon famously got together once again in last November’s penultimate race of the season at Phoenix, when Gordon retaliated against Bowyer and triggered a fight between the two drivers’ crews.

Ryan Newman wound up beating AJ Allmendinger for the win. Newman hasn’t won since and has instead made headlines this weekend for blocking comments, while Allmendinger won’t be back at Martinsville to equal or better his best career finish. He’ll be in the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Barber, with an IZOD-backed entry for Team Penske, for his first open-wheel start in seven years.

Regan Smith takes over the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet this week, which currently resides in the top 10 in owner points despite a rotating driver lineup and a lack of major sponsorship.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.