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Supercross: Justin Barcia set to attack the final nine rounds

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Justin Barcia’s plan for the last nine rounds of the Monster Energy Supercross season is simple: attack.

Currently fourth in the standings, one point out of third, Barcia is in the best position ever to win a Supercross championship. And he is aware that the past two titles have gone to surprise winners with Jason Anderson in 2018 and Cooper Webb last year.

To replicate their feat, he needs to make up 27 points on Eli Tomac. That equals three points per race.

“I know who the guys are in the championship,” Barcia told NBC the week after the second Triple Crown of the season in Dallas. “It’s been proven week in and week out who is going to be there. And there is definitely solid competition, but there are also guys who are very fast on certain weekends.

“The biggest thing is to focus on myself and my racing. If I started to focus on the other guys I’d probably drive myself insane. That’s something I have done in the past, but I’ve grown and matured as a rider.”

Barcia’s perspective is unique. Wedged between the 2019 champion Webb and 2018’s Anderson in the standings, he is comfortably inside the top five. With Adam Cianciarulo suffering an injury that will keep him off the bike for a while, Barcia holds a 32-point advantage over what will become sixth-place after this week’s Atlanta race (February 29, 5 p.m. on NBCSN or stream live on the NBC App).

“For sure, I haven’t been in this good a position in a championship since I can’t even remember the last time,” Barcia said. “Right now, I’m just plugging along.”

Barcia finished fourth in the 2013 points standings. He was fifth in 2014. Since then, he’s cracked the top 10 only once with a 10th in 2018.

“Even though I know I’m in a good spot in the points, I haven’t really gotten that in my head,” Barcia said. “I’ve just been focusing on getting everything on the track and being the best I can. All in all I don’t really have a lot of pressure. I’m doing more than probably some people expected I would do, so for me this is a great position to be in.

“I don’t have the same pressure of those guys who are expected to be in the championship hunt – or those guys who are expected to do better. I’m in a super comfortable place right now. I know I can win, so that is a great feeling. I have the speed and I have the team behind me to do that.”

To get to his current spot in the points, Barcia has relied on consistency. His last five races ended between fourth and sixth. In last week’s Triple Crown race, he finished 4-5-4 in the three Mains. And while consistency is important in a championship run, Barcia wants to get back to where he was in the first two weeks.

He won the season opening race at Anaheim. Barcia finished second the next week in St. Louis for his only two podiums of the year.

Known as ‘Bam Bam’ for his aggressive nature, Justin Barcia’s key to success is in attacking the track and the competition. Feld Entertainment Inc.

But Barcia has a plan in mind for how to challenge the leaders. It begins and ends with attacking. If he can get an aggressive start, a clear track is his biggest obstacle. If he cannot, he has to attack the competition.

“If you start in the back of the pack, it’s full attack mode for most of the race,” Barcia said. “I just want to get whoever is in front of me and to get as far as can – whatever place that may be. That’s something I’ve always been really good at: adapting to the challenges. So, if it’s a bad start it just to attack, attack, attack and get as many guys as I can and have a clean race.

“If it’s the other way around and I get a hole shot, it’s attacking the track; trying to check out and get away from the racers. There are a lot of ways a race can go, but for me, no matter what, the word that sticks out is attack.”

Dallas was a reminder of what Barcia can accomplish. While he finished no better than fourth in any of the three Mains, he passed a lot of riders. More importantly, in the three-race format he went head to head with the championship contenders and beat each of them least once.

“The goal is to get a better start. If I can put myself up at the front I know I can run the pace,” Barcia said. “This past weekend at Dallas, it was a Triple Crown race and I beat all of the top guys at least one race.

“With everything on the table I need to focus on myself and the task at hand. And that’s getting the best result I can every weekend and chipping away at the leader’s points.”

It’s about looking forward. There is less pressure from behind than the obstacles that stand before him in 2020.

The same is true of his recent career. Over the past five seasons, his average points position has been about 15th. It would be reasonable for those modest performances to haunt Barcia, and yet that is not the way a racer thinks.

“In any sport you forget the past really quickly,” Barcia said. “And when it’s brought up you’re like, ‘wow, those were difficult times.’

“But for me, I’ve kind of forgotten about the last couple of years. I feel like it’s easy to forget about that because I’ve always felt like I belong at the front since the beginning of my career. It’s nice to be back in this position where I belong and doing good things, feeling comfortable on the bike.

“I had those tough years, but going through those tough years has made me a stronger racer. I’ve been able to overcome a lot of adversity pretty easily.”

The next two rounds of the Supercross season are on hometown tracks. Residing in Tallahassee, Fla. Atlanta and Daytona Beach, Fla. are quick  trips down the highway. Barcia believes that gives him an advantage in back to back weeks and he expects to take his rightful place on the podium. And with a little luck, he could trim some of those 27 points off Tomac’s lead.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.