Indy 500: What will Carlos Munoz do for an encore?

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If not for Dario Franchitti crashing just moments after the final restart of last year’s Indianapolis 500, perhaps it would have been Carlos Munoz – a driver competing in his very first IndyCar race – drinking the milk in Victory Lane.

Munoz followed Tony Kanaan past Ryan Hunter-Reay to take second place off the restart and may have been able to draft past the Brazilian veteran had the race stayed green.

But it was not to be for Munoz, who was still impressive and fearless in his Indy debut for Andretti Autosport.

One year later, he has returned to the Brickyard as a full-time member of the Andretti stable and will start seventh in Sunday’s race.

After his stellar performance in 2013, does he think he can follow that up with a victorious one?

“It’s going to be really hard for sure,” he said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I think it’s going to be harder than last year because it’s just more competitive.

“Last year was really competitive, but this year, everyone’s really close to each other…It’s hard to have a plan because things can change so quickly from one lap to another lap.”

So far this season, Munoz has claimed the sole podium finish among the full-time Verizon IndyCar Series rookies with a third-place showing at Long Beach. But the Colombian has also had some rough times, especially in the last two races.

At Barber, he lost control of his car under caution and went into the barriers. Then earlier this month at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he was unable to dodge the stalled car of Sebastian Saavedra on the standing start and slammed into him to begin a crash that also involved another rookie, Mikhail Aleshin.

But Munoz knows that those troubles will be out of sight and out of mind if he wins Sunday. He can certainly do that from seventh on the grid, and with a strong No. 34 Andretti Autosport Honda in traffic.

“This car is really sensitive to weather changes, track changes,” he said. “I think on Monday in our last practice, conditions were really similar to what we’re going to have in the race.”

“No one wants to lead. It’s going to be a pack race like last year, from the first [lap] to the last [lap], it’s going to be really close. I’m looking forward to the race. Last year was awesome for the fans and hopefully, we’ll put on a great show again.”

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.