NASCAR: Tight Nationwide championship battle resumes at Michigan

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When you have Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a boss and one of NASCAR’s brightest young stars as a teammate in Chase Elliott, you run the risk of being overshadowed.

But JR Motorsports’ Regan Smith is front and center in a hotly-contested race for the Nationwide Series championship, which resumes this weekend with a 250-miler at Michigan International Speedway.

Since winning the NNS season opener at Daytona in February, Smith has stayed consistent by earning a Top-10 finish in every race since (making for an overall average finish of 7.1). He also comes to Michigan as its defending Nationwide race champion.

But while Smith has been steady, so has Elliott Sadler, who is only four points behind Smith. Sadler also has a win under his belt (Talladega) and boasts an almost identical average finish of 7.6.

Meanwhile, Chase Elliott will try to keep digging out of the points hole he fell in after a bad 37th-place result in Charlotte two races ago.

The JRM driver dropped from the lead to third in the NNS standings, where he remains at 22 points behind teammate Smith. However, a strong fifth-place run in the most recent event at Dover should have him feeling good going into the Irish Hills.

Also within striking distance are Trevor Bayne (fourth, -27 points) and Ty Dillon (fifth, -34 points). Bayne finished second at Dover, which marked his 10th Top-10 finish of the year. If not for a 23rd-place finish at Texas, he’d likely be higher up the table.

As for Dillon, he’ll look to carry over his solid Camping World Truck Series results at Michigan (sixth, 2012; fourth, 2013) to Nationwide.

The NNS rookie has racked up nine Top-10s but has not yet earned a Top-5; his best finish was a seventh at Daytona in February. We’ll see if Austin’s little brother can take the next step starting at MIS.

Adding more intrigue this weekend is a solid number of Sprint Cup drivers in the NNS field, including the aforementioned Earnhardt and Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard.

The first three in that group have four NNS wins at Michigan between them, while Larson has picked up two NNS victories in 2014 at Charlotte and California’s Auto Club Speedway.

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.