Under-the-radar Homestead subplot: Newman goes for RCR’s first title in 20 years, versus ex-RCR driver Harvick

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The immediate reaction to Ryan Newman’s move on Kyle Larson on the final lap of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway was one of “wow,” and “I can’t believe he did that.”

It has moved Newman into the championship finale as one of four drivers with a shot to become a first-time series champion.

And additionally, it’s opened up another subplot: Newman, trying to deliver Richard Childress his first Cup title in 20 years, will be going against Kevin Harvick, Childress’ driver from 2001 through 2013, who came close on many occasions but was never able to deliver Childress a title. Of course Harvick now drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman’s old team.

It’s really a fascinating prospect. Newman has been in the crosshairs all Chase long as the underdog, particularly given the fact he has failed to win a race and scored only four top-five finishes. Yet he’s been entirely consistent throughout the year, played the system to his advantage, and given Childress a driver with a shot at the title courtesy of a move Childress’ legendary driver, the late Dale Earnhardt, would have been proud of.

Newman’s aggression to Larson was definitely a case of “rattling his cage” – as Earnhardt famously did to Terry Labonte at Bristol in 1999 – even if he didn’t describe it as such. Yet aggression isn’t the word you would use to describe Newman’s season on the whole.

So it’s that juxtaposition that leaves Newman – a driver who won eight races in 2003 yet finished sixth in the points to a one-win Matt Kenseth, a season that served as the catalyst for the Chase in the first place – now standing at the precipice of a title, on the strength of a winless season.

And in doing so, he’d deliver Childress his first title since Earnhardt won his seventh in 1994. Earnhardt came close to an eighth in 2000; Harvick came close on several occasions but never bettered third in the points.

Childress, ironically, actually has a shot to win his second straight NASCAR driver’s championship with a winless driver. Grandson Austin Dillon achieved the feat in the Nationwide Series a year ago, which marked the first time in any of NASCAR’s three top divisions (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck Series) such a result had occurred.

Not that Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin aren’t intriguing storylines, or potential champions, but to see one of NASCAR’s legendary owners have this driver be the guy with a shot to end a 20-year drought, and have to beat the guy who came close to ending it any of the last 13 years for RCR is definitely going to be fun to watch.

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.