Ken Roczen rebounds from recent illness to win Supercross Round 15

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Ken Roczen shook off the lethargy and won for the first time Sunday night since Supercross season restarted at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Battling a shingles virus that was diagnosed last week, Roczen snatched the lead from Cooper Webb three minutes into the main event and cruised to a victory by more than 2 seconds.

Webb finished second Sunday ahead of points leader Eli Tomac, who has a 24-point lead on Roczen with two races remaining.

POINTS, RESULTS: All the postrace statistics from Sunday in Supercross

“It’s a big, big turnaround obviously after the last couple of races,” Roczen told NBCSN. “That’s not easy to do. But I just had fun out here. We got the bike dialed, and my physical conditions were a lot better today. Won the heat race, won the main.

“This was awesome battle. I really geled with the track and with the bike.”

After finishing third in Supercross’ May 31 return, Roczen had struggled to a fifth, 10th and fifth in the past three races as the Honda rider struggled with the energy-sapping illness and faded in the second half.

Last Friday, he disclosed in an Instagram post that he tested positive June 7 for shingles, a viral infection with symptoms including painful rashes and fatigue.

Roczen also has been battling respiratory problems throughout the season.

Roczen moved back into second in the standings ahead of Webb, who got the holeshot and led the first few minutes.

I got a great start in the main, but Kenny was riding well,” Webb told NBCSN. “I knew he was a little faster. When he got by me, I was just going to try to pace him, and I thought with his physical condition and stuff, he was maybe going to fade halfway. So I stayed in there, but he stayed on it the whole time. He rode great.

Eli Tomac maintained a comfortable lead in the points standings with his fifth consecutive podium finish in Salt Lake City, Utah (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

“We’ll look to regroup. The track definitely was tough with a lot of flat turns, different than what we’re used to. We’ll come back in two days and try to get the top step.”

In Round 16, Webb will try to win for the third consecutive Wednesday night and continue his podium streak in Salt Lake City.

Through five of seven races that will finish the season in Salt Lake City, Roczen, Webb (two victories) and Tomac (two) have captured all the checkered flags.

Tomac could clinch his first 450 championship with a victory Wednesday and seemed happy with his sixth consecutive podium Sunday.

“Overall it was a good race,” Tomac told NBCSN. “I felt really in the groove up until about halfway and then got squirrelly in the whoops and was missing out on the left side of them. I felt I could have made a lot of time in them. Went a little conservative after halfway, and that was about it.

“Good night for us, third will be OK for now.”

Malcolm Stewart, who finished fifth in the 450 class Sunday, was sporting a Black Lives Matter patch on his uniform (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

In the 250 class, Austin Forkner made a championship statement by shoving Dylan Ferrandis out of the lead on the way to take the victory.

Forkner, who was bumped aside by the points leader in events at Oakland and San Diego earlier this season, trails Ferrandis by seven points entering the season finale.

“The roles were reversed this time,” Forkner told NBCSN. “So I was the chaser this time, where as it’s usually been him. He had all the pressure on him.

“I felt really good. That race was one of the best races I’ve ever raced as far as Supercross. My speed was super good. I was really patient. The track was pretty easy to make a mistake, those two tight little turns were glass. I waited for an opening. It wasn’t much of an opening. I had to cut the turn pretty tight and make a pretty aggressive pass, but he would have done the same thing. He’s done the same thing to me. So all’s fair. It’s racing.”

Ferrandis hung on for second place and blamed himself for opening the door by misjudging a double jump because he misread the color of a flag.

“I can’t complain,” Ferrandis said of Forkner’s move. “I did it once before. So I’m not one to judge if it was clean or not. This race was just bad for me. Definitely a bad race.”

Jett Lawrence, 16, finished third — his first podium in his fifth career 250 start. “Once I got to the finish line, I can admit I cried a little bit,” Lawrence said. “All the time and work put into this. Even though it’s a third, I’d rather win, but I’m just thankful I’m alive right now and able to experience this.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.