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Eli Tomac says Ken Roczen will be missed in motocross title battle

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The path to a fourth consecutive AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship got a little gotten easier for Eli Tomac with Ken Roczen announcing he’ll miss the 2020 season.

But Tomac seemed a little wistful when discussing the impending absence of Roczen, who is skipping motocross to recover from nagging health conditions and also spend more time with wife Courtney, who is expecting their first child in September.

“It’s a pretty big deal that Kenny’s not racing” motocross, Tomac told NBC Sports in an interview. “It’s understandable for some of his situations, but that’s the one guy that say I don’t get a good start, and he gets a holeshot, he’s the one guy that can run away.

“That’s a big loss for the series.”

WATCH PRO MOTOCROSS ON NBC, NBCSNBroadcast schedule for Pro Motocross

Roczen and Tomac have been fierce but respectful rivals at the premier level of dirt bike racing the last few years. Tomac was three points ahead of Roczen through 10 races of Supercross when the series went on hiatus for three months because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Roczen, who finished third in the Supercross points standings as Tomac won his first championship, will return in 2021.

SEASON PREVIEW: Tomac, Musquin lead pack as fans return

Tomac says it’s harder to size up his competition without Roczen in the Outdoors season, which will begin Saturday at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. Marvin Musquin will be returning from a knee injury in a mix of championship contenders that also includes past Supercross champions Cooper Webb and Jason Anderson, as well as Tomac’s teammate, Adam Cianciarulo.

“I felt like Ken’s always my biggest threat when it comes to motocross,” Tomac said. “Now that he’s out, it’s like I don’t know who is going to be the guy. You have Cooper, Marvin, Jason, my teammate Adam. There’s guys like (Justin) Barcia.

“Either way, you can’t go in too overconfident. You have to be level-headed that way and believe in the work you put in beforehand, and that’s it and kind of run with it.”

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.