Take a ride around Sonoma Raceway with defending IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden

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Josef Newgarden has just one item on his agenda for Sunday’s season-ending and championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

“We have to win the race to have any hope of winning the championship again,” the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk. “Win, that’s all, that’s everything on Sunday.”

While Newgarden said his normal race strategy will remain the same, the biggest key is to be aggressive, proactive and take chances if the opportunity exists without bringing his day — and championship hopes — to a premature ending.

He also has to hope Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi (29 points behind Dixon and 58 points ahead of Newgarden and teammate Will Power) have early troubles or poor overall finishes.

The other key, Newgarden said, will be tire degradation, one of his biggest concerns.

“The tire degradation is going to be big,” he noted. “With this year’s new aero package, we’re about 20 to 25 percent down on downforce, which means the tires are going to go away a lot quicker.

“When we did our test here last week, we really saw how bad the tire degradation was. That is going to figure into our strategy, like whether to make it a four- or three-stop (pit stops) race.”

Here’s a video of Newgarden taking a couple of hot laps around the twisting 12-turn, 2.52-mile permanent road course to give you a feel for the challenges he and more than two dozen other drivers will face in Sunday’s race.

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.