Kanaan leads Ganassi 1-2 in opening practice at Texas

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There wasn’t a ton of running in the opening 75-minute practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone 600 – drivers completed anywhere from 17 to 53 laps – and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams ended 1-2 on the top of the timesheets.

Tony Kanaan took the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to a best speed of 216.745 mph, with Scott Dixon just behind in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at 216.613.

Kanaan said there’s not much you can really read into this session, run with high ambient and track temperatures in the high 80s and mid-110s, respectively.

“Honestly qualifying is such a lottery (starting last) might happen,” Kanaan told NBCSN’s Robin Miller. “We have a decent car for the race.

“It was a messy session for everyone. Lot of yellows. We never did a qualifying run because we were in traffic. Track was quite hot. We had a pretty good plan and split the workload between the four cars. Qualifying will be a lottery. But I’m looking forward to tonight.”

Two more Chevrolets – Josef Newgarden in the electric green No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet – were next up before the fastest Honda of Marco Andretti in fifth, the No. 27 Snapple Honda.

Andretti Autosport drivers clocked in fifth, sixth and seventh with Andretti ahead of Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi, who were second and first in the most recent oval race at the Indianapolis 500.

Andretti told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, “It’s not bad. It’s always tricky in the warm conditions. You’re trying to find the race car balance. Tonight we’ll have a better feel for it. Good pace in qualifying.”

It was a somewhat chaotic session as Kanaan noted.

Gabby Chaves crashed, Graham Rahal stopped on track with a gearbox issue, then James Hinchcliffe said his team needed to fix something in the garage area, not on pit lane. There was also debris on track from a cut tire which caused an extended yellow flag period.

Here’s additional quotes from practice:

  • Hinchcliffe to Kevin Lee: “I think we know what we need to change but we can’t quite do it in pit lane. Ultimately track conditions aren’t what we’re racing in. We know what we need to do but have to go back to garage to do it.”
  • Newgarden to Hargitt: “I think we made good progress on the Fuzzy’s car. It’s gonna look good under the lights with the electric green. Hopefully we execute OK. They’re (the tires) designed to fall off a bit. For us, it’s our job to take care of them. Should have a good car for the race.”
  • Will Power to Lee: “It’s very tough in this heat. It’s tough to get a read on the car. Tires fall off pretty badly.”
  • Juan Pablo Montoya to Lee: “It was OK. I’m running the hum car this week. We struggled a little bit at the beginning. Indy we thought we could deal with it but it bit us. We are trying to be a bit more consistent. We’re seeing. A lot of the fast laps are with tows. We don’t really know where we stand yet.”
  • Rossi to Hargitt: “It was a decent session. We’re missing a bit to the top guys. I need to learn how to go faster.”
  • Dixon to Lee: “It feels somewhat decent. The biggest thing here is trying to maintain the degradation.”

All told the planned 75-minute session was extended five extra minutes owing to the yellows.

Times are below. Qualifying airs on a slight delay at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

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Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”