Despite starting last, Johnson earns Top-10 finish

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Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 was a prime example of why Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have been able to lay claim to five Sprint Cup championships in the last seven seasons.

Johnson was forced to start 43rd for the first time in his NASCAR national series career after his car failed post-qualifying inspection on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But once again, he and his team rose to the occasion, turning a potential disaster into a sixth-place showing in Loudon.

“Five-Time” got to work early, hitting the Top 20 after just 50 laps. His run then appeared to stall out around the 15th place mark as the race headed for halfway, but a two-tire stop enabled him to get into the Top 10, where he would stay for the remainder of the afternoon.

At a track where passing can be tough to come by, being able to make hay on the restarts was critical for Johnson.

“Really, the lane that you were in on a restart had a huge impact on how many cars you could pass,” he said. “A few times I was on the outside and made my way to third, and then a few times [I was] on the inside and I slipped back.

“You didn’t have any other opportunity. Once we got single file, you couldn’t complete a pass or really get position on someone. So, restarts were your one and only opportunity to make something happen and everybody was doing what they could.”

The sixth-place result continued a strong run for Johnson as of late. With two victories (Pocono and Daytona) and five Top-10s in the last six races, he appears more than ready to take back the Sprint Cup. His run at Loudon enabled him to stretch his lead in the championship to 56 points, the biggest cushion he’s had all year in the standings.

Sunday didn’t end in victory for Johnson, but after an all-day fight, a Top 10 result should be a nice reward for him and HMS going into an off weekend.

“We made the best of a bad situation and that’s all you can do,” said Knaus. “We wanted to make today a non-issue and I think that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t need to win today, but the most important thing is we didn’t need to lose. And I think we came out of here with a solid run.”

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.