Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to do a little pre-Christmas dirt tracking Saturday in Illinois

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wants a checkered flag for Christmas – well, sort of.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver will get back behind the wheel this Saturday, going back to his short-track, open-wheel roots in DuQuoin, Illinois.

Stenhouse will compete in the fifth annual Great Clips Battle at the Center on the one-sixth Mini-Magic Mile at the Southern Illinois Center, located on the grounds of the DuQuoin State Fair. DuQuoin is about 85 miles southeast of St. Louis, Mo.

The Battle at the Center is a non-points all-star race put on by the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series.

It’ll be Stenhouse’s second bid to win at DuQuoin, having finished second in the inaugural Battle at the Center in 2010. He’ll be driving for Bryan Clauson Racing as a tune-up of sorts for next month’s Lucas Oil Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla., from Jan. 12-17.

It’ll be Stenhouse’s third try to win the Chili Bowl, having finished ninth in 2012, but failed to advance out of the B feature last year.

“We’re always trying to get him up here for the Battle at the Center to get him in the car and get him in the car before Tulsa and hit the ground running,” Clauson said. “He needs to get the rust off in a midget. This year, his schedule allowed him to do it.”

Stenhouse, 27, was a very successful sprint car driver before his career took him to NASCAR. NASCAR star Tony Stewart hired Stenhouse to drive for his USAC team in 2007, and the Olive Branch, Miss., native responded with five National Midget wins, and two others in USAC National Sprint Car competition in 2008.

Shortly after that, Stenhouse joined Roush Fenway Racing and went on to win back-to-back Nationwide Series championships in 2011 and 2012. He became the Sprint Cup/Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2013, but struggled to a 27th-place finish in the final standings in 2014.

Others that will be featured in Saturday’s race action include Clauson, 2014 National Midget Driver of the Year Chris Bell, 2012 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget champ Andrew Felker, and World of Outlaws driver Joey Saldana.

Tickets are $20, with kids 12-and-under free. Doors open at 3 pm CT, hot laps begin at 5 pm CT, with heats afterward leading up to the 40-lap main event feature.

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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.