In racing, a close championship battle keeps the tension pegged for each race, but usually by the middle of a season, especially one as long as the 17-round Monster Energy Supercross series, one athlete typically emerges as the one to beat. After a nail-biting season last year, 2020 is proving to be even more dramatic and exciting.
After nine rounds, two riders are tied for the championship points lead. Last Saturday night, inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in Atlanta, Georgia, Team Honda HRC's Ken Roczen won the 450SX Class Main Event wire to wire. That required drag racing 21 other riders off a steel grate and down a narrowing start straight to emerge from the first corner's chaos in the lead. Roczen then had to tick off fast lap times as the Georgia-clay based track broke down and slickened up. Roczen rode perfectly and left Atlanta with his third win of the year; it is particularly noteworthy because the wins come after three winless seasons for the 25-year-old racer. Injuries and slow returns now seem to be behind the charismatic German athlete and he's in the perfect spot to win his first Monster Energy Supercross title.
However, Monster Energy Kawasaki's Eli Tomac, also yet to win a title despite 31 wins over his seven years in the Premiere Class, stands exactly in that same perfect spot to win that same title; he is tied in points with Roczen. For Tomac, his night in Atlanta was as tough as Roczen's was smooth. Outside the top five off the start, Tomac battled, crashed, tangled, and finally got a few lucky breaks. He made aggressive passes right up until the end, yet still missed the podium by half of a second.
There are other contenders waiting to gain ground should Roczen or Tomac slip up or have a bad night – a very common occurrence with all the variables that go into a Supercross race. Defending champion Red Bull KTM's Cooper Webb gutted out a heroic third-place ride after a week of rehab and pain management to recover from a brutal crash the previous weekend. Webb was clearly in pain after the race on the podium – but he was on the podium.
Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing's Justin Barcia, the winner of the opening round in January, seems to be faster than ever. Plagued with bad starts lately, the 27-year-old racer emerged from the first corner in fifteenth place. He got to work immediately pressuring, scrapping, and passing the best racers in the world; in 20 minutes on the race clock plus one additional lap, Barcia got around thirteen riders – some of them more than once and under no friendly terms – to finish in second place.
Four riders, on four teams, riding four different motorcycle brands, each with their own unique style of riding and racing – all within a single race's points of each other, and two dead even after nine rounds of racing. As the 2020 season narrows toward its climax, the intensity on the track will certainly increase. The series continues with round ten this Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway for the 50thanniversary of Supercross racing in Daytona Beach, Fla.
450SX Class Results, Atlanta, Georgia
1. Ken Roczen, Clermont, Fla., Honda
2. Justin Barcia, Greenville, Fla., Yamaha
3. Cooper Webb, Clermont, Fla., KTM
4. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki
5. Martin Davalos, Tallahassee, Fla., KTM
6. Justin Hill, Yoncalla, Ore., Honda
7. Aaron Plessinger, Hamilton, Ohio, Yamaha
8. Malcolm Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Honda
9. Vince Friese, Menifee, Calif., Honda
10. Dean Wilson, Murrieta, Calif., Husqvarna
450SX Class Championship Standings
1. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki (200)
2. Ken Roczen, Clermont, Fla., Honda (200)
3. Justin Barcia, Greenville, Fla., Yamaha (177)
4. Cooper Webb, Clermont, Fla., KTM (176)
5. Jason Anderson, Rio Rancho, N.M., Husqvarna (151)
6. Malcolm Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Honda (137)
7. Adam Cianciarulo, New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Kawasaki (128)
8. Justin Hill, Yoncalla, Ore., Honda (127)
9. Justin Brayton, Charlotte, N.C., Honda (116)
10. Dean Wilson, Murrieta, Calif., Husqvarna (113)