Pro Motocross: Roczen, Martin begin title defenses today at Hangtown

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With a long and grueling supercross season in the books, it’s time for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship to take center stage today. Coverage of all four motos will air from 5-7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra, and NBCSN will also televise the second motos live at 7 p.m. ET.

Today’s race at Hangtown will be the first of 12 rounds throughout the summer that will decide champions in two separate classes, but both of last year’s title winners will be faced with tough challenges along the way.

For Ken Roczen, the path to defending last year’s 450 Class title is already getting off to a rough start. The RCH Suzuki rider is currently battling injury – he hurt his ankle during the supercross season and is reportedly dealing with a back issue now as well – and if his practice times this morning are any indication, he does not seem to be 100% today.

As of now, Roczen is still expected to line up for today’s races, but should he struggle, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey and GEICO Honda’s Eli Tomac would stand to be benefit. Dungey already has two 450MX championships under his belt, and Tomac was the fastest qualifier this morning – more than three seconds better than the rest of the field. Both riders are expected to be title contenders this year, so Roczen can ill-afford a slow start to the season.

In the 250 Class, Jeremy Martin will embark on a title defense of his own after last year’s breakout campaign. His toughest competition though may come from his own Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha teammate, Cooper Webb, who recently dominated the 250 west region during the supercross season.

Martin and Webb both pit under the same rig, so all Webb has to do is look a few feet to his side to see Martin’s bike featuring the red #1 plate of a champion, something which gives Webb a constant reminder of his goal for the year – to earn a title of his own.

“It gives me motivation for sure,” Webb said. “Especially for me after winning the supercross championship and getting third in the series last year. To get beaten by Jeremy, I get a little motivated. It’s extra motivation to steal that plate off of the #1 and put it on the 17.”

Live coverage of the season-opening round begins at 5 p.m. ET with first motos in both classes. The 250 Class will take the track first, followed by the 450 Class. Second motos in both classes will then air live at 7 p.m. ET. All races are streaming live on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, and NBCSN will also carry live coverage of the second motos at 7 p.m. ET.

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

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IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”