Jimmie Johnson ready to go for season-saving Talladega win

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Jimmie Johnson is down to his last chance.

The defending Sprint Cup champion’s crash at Kansas and so-so result one week ago at Charlotte has put him 26 points behind the cutoff for the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. A win in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is probably his only chance to move on.

But even with the long odds of winning on NASCAR’s most unpredictable track, Johnson said he was excited about getting one more chance.

“Two bad races would have eliminated me from any opportunity of winning a championship in each previous format,” he said today at ‘Dega. “So I feel like I have a third opportunity this weekend. Granted, it’s a tough one and a lofty goal; there are many other guys out there with the same goal, not only from a Chase situation but also trying to win a race this year.

“I’ve got a lot of work ahead for myself and this team this weekend so we’re ready for the challenge. We’ll get out there to work and see what happens.”

However, he also said that while he’s thought long and hard about how to approach Sunday’s elimination race, there was no “clear vision” to him about what strategy would be best.

“Racing for it can get you in trouble. Riding can get you in trouble,” he said. “If you ride at some point, you have to go to the front. With this rules package, it’s much more difficult to get track position.

“It seems like with maybe three pit stops to go, you need to have control of the race and maintain it – or at least be in first or second to be at the head of the line and give yourself a chance to win.

“So I don’t know… I really don’t. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. From the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win.”

Should Sunday see Johnson fail to advance, it will mark the effective end of a season that has been hit-or-miss for him, crew chief Chad Knaus, and the No. 48 team. While Johnson’s won three times in 2014, flashes of his usual dominance have not been sustained.

With another new rules package coming in next season, Johnson said that if he did not move forward in the Chase, he and the 48 camp would likely shift their focus to getting a head-start on 2015 as it would “be in our best interest.”

But right now, everything is focused on winning at ‘Dega – and pushing that particular scenario back for at least three more races.

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.