Houston Changed Everything


1/16/2018

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If we've learned anything in 40 years of AMA Supercross racing it's that predictability is not an asset. Sure, when there are super-mega-stars like McGrath, Carmichael and Villopoto involved the outcomes can often seem predetermined. We're not at that stage of the game anymore. 

Many saw the next mega-star emergin within Eli Tomac, but his inconsistency during the past couple of years have cast a heavy shadow on those predictions. This leaves the door ajar for others trying to step into that role, and the most likely candidate thrust himself into the position with gusto - Ken Roczen. Of course, his horrendous crash at last year's Anaheim 2 race threw his entire career into question but his results thus far seem to hold some promise that he may yet be able to do it. The next candidate came upon us quietly in the past couple of seasons; Marvin Musquin has been on a roll lately, with an amazing off-season full of victories that he parlayed into the win at the Anaheim 1 season opener two weeks ago.

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Round 2 in Houston this past weekend changed all of that. Tomac, after his crash while leading Anaheim 1, put in a very minimal attempt to ride in Houston, pulling out of each qualifying session and citing a sore shoulder as the cause. This seemingly left the door wide open for Musquin whose confidence was at an all-time high as he ran away with the win in Round 1. And let's not forget about Roczen, who was running hard for a podium finish last weekend after working through the pack to end up fourth.

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The track at NRG Stadium had other plans, however, and particularly the whoops section which was chewed up and gnarly well before the main events even arrived to the gate. They'd claimed stars and privateers alike all day and, in his heat race, Musquin himself became a victim. After hitting the gruond hard, he got up slowly and cruised back to the pits with his head down. He'd dislocated his shoulder and was out for the night. He may be out for this weekend too, and possibly even the next: So much for the next seemingly unbeatable mega-star having a break-out weekend in this brutal sport.

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What we did get was an elated Jason Anderson, who claimed his fourth 450SX class victory. Anderson has always had the speed, but he tends to hit the ground hard when he crashes, and, as a result, injuries often plague him. Right now he's as fast and healthy as ever, and with a reported five-year extension to his contract with the Husqvarna factory racing team, he seems to be in a very good place in his career. Anderson was also the fastest qualifier and won his heat race, so he had a perfect night.

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The 250SX class had a new winner, Ohio's Aaron Plessinger, who won in dramatic fashion. Coming from dead last in the first turn and working past every rider in the field to gain the lead, Plessinger was not to be beaten in Houston. With the win, he takes the points lead over TLD/KTM's Shane McElrath while Joey Savatgy sits third, 7 points behind Plessinger. 

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Qualifying third behind Anderson and Roczen, Musquin seemed to be in great position to defend his red points-leader plate. Cool, calm and collected, the Frenchman and his ever-present and supportive wife looked to be in their usual zone prior to his get-off in the whoops in heat race 2 against Anderson. Running around in fifth position, Musquin miscalculated his jump-through technique and landed wrong, popping his shoulder out on Lap 5 and rolling off the track, done for the night. His press releases thus far this week don't indicate whether he'll at least try to line up for qualifying at Anaheim 2 this weekend--and this weekend qualifying is extraordinarily important as it's the first of three Triple Crown races (more on that below).

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The perception after Eli Tomac's crash the previous weekend in Anaheim was that, aside from some apparent damage to his shoulder, his morale or ego may have taken the brunt of the blow. Crashing while leading a race with a solid five-second gap is tough on a racer, and to do so at the opening round must have made it that much harder. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that his pants fastener broke in the process, leaving his pants hanging quite low and no doubt restricting his movement, as well. During the week following, it was clear that maybe the shoulder was a bit more banged up than originally believed and Tomac was in a wait-and-see mode heading into Houston. It was immediately clear that the No. 3 was not feeling "it" as he rode slowly and carefully around the track before pulling off each time he'd gone out. Heading into Round 3 this weekend, he now is effectively out of the title hunt and finds himself 48 points behind leader Jason Anderson.

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Ken Roczen continues to amaze everyone from his doctors to even the most critical fans of the sport. Seemingly super-human in his recovery from what could have been a career-ending arm injury, Roczen in Houston once again proved that he's not just your average guy. Putting in a great ride to end up second to Anderson in the main, Roczen also rattled off 13 laps in the lead (after winning his heat race). And he did so with such a casual and smooth style that it may just redefine how to ride a Supercross track. Roczen's back, people, and he'll be winning very soon--heading into Round 3, he's only 7 points out of the lead.

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Justin Barcia is rejuvenated. After a couple of years where he just seemed "off," it appears he is really gelling with the new Yamaha factory racing team, as well as their refreshed YZ450F. After leading several laps of Anaheim 1 and ending up with the final podium spot, many wondered if it was just a fluke. Could he do it again? Well, he did. After a great start in the main event, Barcia maintained his position, for the most part, losing only to Roczen and Anderson and staying solidly ahead of the rest of the field in a determined and gritty ride. There probably aren't a lot of people who'd have guessed Barcia would be tied with Roczen for second in points going into Round 2, but the East Coast fan favorite has proven that he's not done just yet with what had, at one point, promised to be a multi-championship career.

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The 250 West Regional series has thus far managed to keep all but one of its top riders in racing condition (Alex Martin suffered a fractured collarbone at Round 1), and so the racing has been super intense. While Joey Savatgy, Aaron Plessinger, Adam Cianciarulo, Christian Craig, Shane McElrath and a few other veterans have performed as expected, another stands out for the opposite reason. Defending champion Justin Hill switched teams, manufacturers and, running the big No. 1 plate, he's simply been way off the pace once the gate drops. Fast in qualifying and appearing to be riding quite well, Hill has yet to get even a whiff of the podium as what appears to be a nightmare start to his season is now two races deep and seemingly beyond repair. Hill sits eighth, 20 points out of the lead.

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On the other hand, this year's West region has really been a showcase for fresh talent, not the least of which is Chase Sexton. In his first season racing professional Supercross, Sexton--in his second race ever--got on the podium in Houston. Not only did he manage to do so, but he did it while battling with several of his longtime heroes in the sport--riders he probably still has posters of on his bedroom wall. Keep an eye on Sexton, because after his Houston performance, it's not at all unlikely that he's capable of pulling off a win sometime very soon. 

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The return to racing of Malcolm Stewart as a fill-in for the injured Justin Bogle on the JGR Factory Suzuki team is a perfect segue to this weekend's Triple Crown event in Anaheim. The introduction of the AMA Supercross Triple Crown, a three-city showdown hosted at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Jan. 20, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on March 3 and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 14, where both the 250SX and 450SX Classes will compete in three Main Events. Qualifying races will deduce the field to the top 22 riders in each class, and the 250SX Class will compete in 6-, 10- and 12-minute Main Events, while the 450SX Class will compete in 8-, 12- and 15-minute Main Events. An Olympic-style scoring method will be used to determine an overall winner in each class from all three Main Events and the lowest combined score at the end will be awarded the overall win. This series of shorter, more sprint-like main events is sure to open up the podium to some riders who may not normally have the stamina or experience to be that high up in the standings at the end of a 25 minute main event. Look for known sprinters, such as Barcia, Stewart, Brayton, Baggett and several others to have their chance at a main event win this weekend.

Be sure to check out the action on AMASupercross.com for live timing and scoring. Also, on our Facebook page: AMA Supercross Championship, we will have photos from both practice and the night's racing, and on Instagram be sure to follow @amasupercross. Also - TV listings are available here: https://www.supercrosslive.com/tv

See you at the races!


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