Blake Baggett is a force when he wants to be. While that may seem silly to say about last year's national champion, he still has struggled at times to show that dominating form of 2012 and even many times in 2011. Coming into Lake Elsinore, many of the experts (see: dummies) expected Blake to be up front. He is a southern California kid and this style of track and dirt suits his style and comfort. When the track loses traction and conditions deteriorate, it seems to favor the Grand Terrace native. Bad wrist or not, his confidence rises and he just flat out does better. He is faster in practice, faster in the motos and probably even drives faster on the way home from the race. To that same point, in the second moto, Blake was stuck on the outside after DNF'ing the first moto. Normally, this is a sure fire way to get a horrid start especially for Blake who has seen his share of start struggles.
True to form, wielding that mighty confidence sword, Blake came roaring around the outside of the first turn like Cole Trickle on the last lap of the Daytona 500. He came into the second turn literally 20mph faster than anyone else and nearly ran into the crowd trying to pass Zach Osborne for the holeshot. To say he was more aggressive than usual is putting it mildly. He knew he was capable of winning at this track and was wasting no time getting to the front. Getting out front early and trying to build a comfortable gap within the first few laps can make life much easier and Blake certainly knows this.
Blake Baggett pushed his way to the front early in the second moto at Elsinore.
Simon Cudby photo
After losing a few spots with the second turn mistake, he was behind rookie Cooper Webb for a few laps, looking for a way past the speedy youngster. Webb was setting a torrid pace himself and not making life easier for the #1 bike. Finally, Blake got a run up the inside of Cooper and looked to have the pass made but the North Carolina phenom was not ready to slide to the side for his elder statesman. He set Blake up and squared back up underneath him, re-taking the lead and putting the squeeze on BB. Blake was clearly not impressed and nearly scrubbed the knobbies off his rear tire on the next tabletop. I actually stood up at this point as I knew this move would draw some retaliation from Baggett, who had tried to make the pass clean and easy. Kudos to Cooper for fighting back but I knew in this situation, with the moto win at stake and Blake having a very difficult summer, the door was about to be slammed really hard whether Cooper's hands were out of the way or not. Coming up to the finish line jump, Blake got a run on the Star Racing Yamaha and proceeded to take the line away and forcefully if I do say so myself. There was no contact made and there were no casualties but surely Cooper probably didn't care for that maneuver.
In my opinion, there were many different aspects to that aggressive pass. One, Baggett probably was in a rush to get out front and try to gap his biggest rivals, Roczen and Tomac. I am sure he felt confident he could beat Webb and any time spent behind him was time wasted. When Webb re-passed Blake, this angered him as he was trying to give Cooper room and it backfired. Second, 2013 has not been kind to the reigning national champion. When things are going poorly, patience is in short supply and this was an easy release for some frustration. Justified or not, adding a little bit of attitude to the pass probably felt good after a long summer of questioning himself. Third, Webb would have been on the inside going into the next left hand turn and therefore had a chance to once again impede Blake's runaway plot. By cutting over (harshly) he broke Cooper's momentum and fired a shot across the bow in the "listen kid, I am not messing around fashion.” With Tomac repeatedly running down the field from deep in the pack, there was no time to play cat and mouse with anyone. It was a mixture of frustration, urgency and aggression.
Baggett looks to get back in the title mix in 2014.
Simon Cudby photo
For 2014, Blake needs to carry this speed and intensity he showed at Utah and Elsinore. This was the Blake that won a national title and earned the Chupacabra nickname. He is certainly capable of this form and if he can stay healthy, get his wrist fully functional and have a solid off-season to prepare, look for Mitch to be battling for yet another title for 2014. Oh, and just for fun ... could we see a repeat of the 2011 outdoor championship battle? I am hearing possibly so!