What to Watch For: IndyCar at Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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SONOMA, Calif. – A champion will be crowned today at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), but the question is whether it will be Simon Pagenaud or Will Power.

Today’s 85-lap race at Sonoma Raceway will see a driver from Team Penske drive away with the championship while there could be plenty of other story lines to develop.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s some of the additional items to watch for today:

THE TITLE BATTLE

Pagenaud and Power both appear to be in the right mindset. Pagenaud has gone to another level this year mentally while Power has nothing to lose, although now down 44 points.

Fifth or better, and Pagenaud wins the title regardless. Fifth or worse, and Power can’t win regardless.

We shall see how it goes.

TIRE DEGRADATION

Says Power, who enters the day 44 points back of Pagenaud: “It’s a long race. I think it’s going to be a race of degradation. It’s going to be really interesting the way the tires go.”

With the abrasive surface at Sonoma, tire life is more of an issue than fuel mileage, and if teams want to go off strategy and run a four-stop strategy instead of a three-stop one, they could be more of a rabbit on the softer red tires.

STRATEGERY

Look for a mix between three stops and four, and look for about Laps 13 to 16 as the first window for anyone opting for a four-stopper and Laps 62 to 68 as the “get-home stop.”

THE WILD CARDS

What will the day hold for, among others…?

  • Helio Castroneves, starting second, and Tony Kanaan, starting 13th, both looking to end two-plus year win droughts?
  • Juan Pablo Montoya, starting third, in potentially his final race for Team Penske?
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, starting fifth, a race after his 200th start and having gone through an emotional roller coaster of a week?
  • Scott Dixon, starting seventh, in the final sendoff for Target at Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar program?
  • Sebastien Bourdais, starting ninth, in his likely but not necessarily last drive for KVSH Racing?
  • Josef Newgarden, starting 10th, in potentially his final race for Ed Carpenter Racing?
  • Charlie Kimball, starting 12th, in his 100th career start?
  • Marco Andretti, starting 14th, needing any result of note 10 years after his first win at Sonoma?
  • James Hinchcliffe, starting 20th, in his last race before retreating solely to the land of dancing?

STARTING GRID AND TIRE CHOICES

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.