Observations: Daytona

Observations: Daytona

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Round ten of the Monster Energy Supercross took place in Daytona, Florida, for the one race that is not really like a supercross. Well, the Daytona Supercross by Honda didn’t used to be anything like a supercross at all, but nowadays, like a lot of grand old traditions that have fell by the wayside, it’s as close to a supercross as it’s ever been and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

A quick recap: Daytona supercross used to be a hybrid supercross/motocross track, and way back in the day it actually crossed the car race pavement. It was a true man’s track, with actual telephone poles laid down for whoops and covered with Florida sand. They eventually stopped crossing over to other parts of the speedway, but we were still left with a brutal track and lap times somewhere around the 1:30 mark. The race was held during the day in the middle of the hot Florida sun and the main event had thirty guys in it. This caused a lot of chaos and a lot of crashes when the riders got tired.

After 2003 (by the way, the super team of Ferry/Matthes finished third that year) the race was moved to the nighttime and some other track builders moved in, so the jumps and obstacles became much safer and also much more similar to what you would find at a normal supercross. And lap times dropped to around the 1:15 mark. At one point, Dirt Wurx, the crew that builds the other 16 supercross tracks, even took over track building, leading to a more “supercrossy” look. Nowadays it’s Ricky Carmichael and Mark Barnett on the front lines, and it’s still rough, but there are 20 riders in the main, it’s night time, the lap times have gotten shorter… you hear that sound? That’s the sound of, in some people’s eyes, progress.

So smash cut to 2014 and due to TV constraints the track was shortened even more, with times now in the 1:05 range (all the times I have quoted here are from the upper echelon riders). Back when I was a mechanic, we would go test for Daytona to try to come up with a spec that worked well with the jump faces and small braking bump chop. It was very nearly impossible and every team I was on ended up bolting the supercross suspension back on and just going out a few clicks on compression and rebound. This doesn’t happen anymore, as you’ll read in a bit.

Dominating performance from Ryan Villopoto at Daytona. Photo: Simon Cudby
Dominating performance from Ryan Villopoto at Daytona. Photo: Simon Cudby

This year, with the track being shortened and a using a pretty basic layout, Daytona completed its evolution to a regular supercross. And I’m not sure I like it. Like Monaco in F1, the old Boston Garden in the NHL, Bristol in NASCAR and so on I like the wild card race thrown into the middle of the series. Daytona is not that race anymore. If anything it’s a more boring-than usual supercross now. Because of the ruts and jumps that are worn down it becomes a bit of a follow-the-leader race. Seriously, nothing happened in this past Saturday’s 250SX main event. Just a bunch of dudes riding pretty fast on flat ground through some ruts and trying to clear jumps that were beat down.

I was talking to a data acquisition guy from one of the teams and he was telling me that all the data they got back from the race suggested that this was a normal supercross race. The overall speeds were higher of course, but the team went with its normal supercross set-up. The data suggested it was a supercross race and so now with the changes, it just becomes a sort-of-boring supercross race.

We need to go back to the way it was back in the day (under the sun, in the middle of bike week) or at least get back to adding in a ton of obstacles and making it a real tough test insofar as making it more motocross-like. Because, in my opinion, it’s not really working the way it was this year.

Well, there it is. The soul-crushing (for his competition) ride for Ryan Villopoto that we’ve been waiting for. Just two wins after nine races seemed a little low for the three-time champion. Yes, no other rider had more than two, and he had a nice points lead, but we’re a hard crowd to please, you know? Back in RV’s 250 days, he won more motocross titles than supercross titles, but he’s flipped that in the 450s. He had a great ride at Daytona, it’s the outdoorsman in him, I suppose. He grabbed the lead on the first lap from Dean Wilson and then just said see ya later.

At some point he tipped over in a turn but he still had a double-digit second lead on second place. He ripped up the corners aggressively, pinned the throttle and steered the rear end of his bike all over the place. It seems the only problem RV had this year was the dirt wasn’t giving what his right hand needed. Give the man traction and you see just how good he is.

I’d like to think that seeing as how I was at his house in Florida this past week that I was an inspiration for the first win in five weeks, but RV claims no. By the way, it would take aliens kidnapping him or a complete disaster for RV to not clinch his fourth supercross title before the final round in Las Vegas. It’s coming folks, get ready for it.

Blake Baggett secured his first win of the season at Daytona.  Photo: Simon Cudby
Blake Baggett secured his first win of the season at Daytona.  Photo: Simon Cudby

Dean Wilson was once again riding for Discount Tire/TwoTwo Motorsports this weekend as a fill-in. I felt like we didn’t really see what he could do at Indy, but we certainly saw how he could do at Daytona as the #15 qualified first, won his heat over James Stewart (who, in case you didn’t know, REALLY rides well at Daytona) and then ran second in the main for fourteen laps. Then he was fourth for three more laps. Then he was sixth for two more laps and finally he was seventh.

It was a dramatic fade back for Wilson in the last three laps (Wilson later admitted he suffered from arm pump, something that had bitten him in the 250SX class) and I’m on the fence about his ride. Certainly the speed was there and he opened a lot of eyes but we’ve seen him struggle with arm pump this year on the smaller bikes and it looks like the problem has followed him onto Reed’s team, as well. I don’t get it! This is a guy who won a national title by making the podium in something like 20 out of 24 motos. In my eyes, you win a national title and you’re someone. You’re gnarly! But Wilson has never been 20-of-24 motos consistent in his supercross career. There have been flashes here and there but there should be no way that he drops this far back after two weeks on the bike. After the race, people in Wilson’s camp were very happy with his ride. I don’t know, guess I look at the seventh, look at what could have been and wonder what happened. But that’s just me.

Blake Baggett just crushed everyone in the 250SX class. He rode what seemed like a perfect 15 laps to take his first win of the season and his second win at Daytona in his career. I can’t figure Blake out, I know his wrist still isn’t perfect (he crashed hard in practice at Daytona and a PC guy told me he hurt his “bad” wrist) but he should be better than he is at supercross, right? In this day and age you don’t see a rider be so much better outdoors than indoors but maybe, just maybe, Blake is that guy. I don’t know, it’s not he’s been bad this year—his starts have been though—but I feel like straight up he should be closer to Adam Cianciarulo and Martin Davalos than he has been at the other rounds. He was my pre-season pick for the title by the way.

There’s no doubt that Baggett felt at home in the ruts and soft dirt of Daytona. Maybe he’s just a bit of a mental case or something where he has to have confidence to ride extra-fast? I don’t know … man, he was so good at Daytona that I feel like we should see this more.

Justin Barcia had a good race going until he passed Malcolm Stewart, fell over and then got shoved and was also sort of force-fed Mookie’s front wheel. And for these actions Stewart was fined $5000 and put on probation for the rest of supercross. Much like Mike Alessi, Barcia doesn’t have a whole lot of friends in the pro pits. He has certainly done some things on the track and he’s got a chip wedged right there on his shoulder. But these are things that, in my opinion, make him a great rider. He doesn’t care about big names or making friends, he’s just got a desire to win.

Andrew Short had his best finish of the season Saturday. Photo: Simon Cudby
Andrew Short had his best finish of the season Saturday. Photo: Simon Cudby

But in my opinion this move on Stewart was fine. It was completely innocent and he just lost his front end after Stewart appeared to ease up and let him inside. Mookie’s reactions (plural) to the move were out of line (remember Stewart pushed Cooper Webb at an earlier race this year and was warned for this sort of thing. So clearly we see now Mookie’s go-to move when upset is the shove. Some people have the finger, some have the punch—Mookster has the shove) and he deserved some sort of punishment in my eyes. What the collision really did though was mess up a couple of great races that both guys had going on.

I did like this Twitter exchange these two had over the move though:

Justin Barcia ‏@justinbarcia  Mar 9

100% clean pass home boy should of checked up like any normal rider would do instead of nailing the gas and making a good pass go bad

Malcolm Stewart ‏@Stewart_32  Mar 9

No problem @justinbarcia see ya in outdoors

And to Mookie’s above Tweet, Barcia replied “Hahah yes!!!!” so I’m confused. It seems like Barcia’s in agreement that Mookie should indeed seek his revenge on Justin in the outdoors? Or he’s laughing at the tweet when it definitely seems like Mookie is NOT trying to be funny at all. I’m so confused but I can’t wait until the outdoors now!

“Hi, my name is Steve Matthes and I’d like to admit that I was very wrong about Wil Hahn and his 450SX chances”. Whew, that feels better.  Hahn’s been very impressive this season, his first in the 450SX class. We all talked about Eli Tomac and Kenny Roczen a ton but perhaps a lot of people left out the 2013 250SX champion. He’s been really good lately and has a real shot at seventh in the points in his first full year. And that’s with missing a race. At Daytona he was great, he was seventeenth after the first lap and ended up sixth. And in another lap he would’ve had fifth and maybe, just maybe fourth. Hahn was coming on and was by far the fastest guy at the end of the race. He’s down at Kevin Windham’s house working with him and it’s really paying off, he’s just got to get his starts going. Which is weird to type out when it comes to Wilbur.

Let’s take a look at the results shall we?

250SX Results

1 4 Blake Baggett Grand Terrace, CA Kawasaki KX 250F- It’s good that Baggett runs a mouth guard, I like the pro-activeness towards saving his teeth and helping with concussions but he’s got to stop leaving it in so long after he takes his helmet off. It’s just super creepy.

2 46 Adam Cianciarulo Port Orange, FL Kawasaki KX 250F- AC went from first to fifth in his heat on the last lap when his motor started letting go. This gave him the ninth gate pick when all the starts were coming from the inside, so I wrote in my notes “AC’s motor cost him win?” thinking he wasn’t going to get a good start with that gate. But the kid made it work, anyways, and although he didn’t have anything for BB4, he was still very good. He’s passing all sorts of tests thrown at him this year and he’s got a seven-point lead now.

3 31 Martin Davalos Cairo, GA Kawasaki KX 250F- Daytona isn’t really a great track for Martin who is more of a finesse and throttle control guy. He’s not a “balls out” motocross-ish rider (which is why he does well at Washougal) so I think he should be pumped with this third place. Although he lost two more points to AC in the title chase.

4 36 Blake Wharton Beaumont, TX Honda CRF 250- Good solid ride from Wharton who I’ve just been waiting to have one of those “untouchable Blake Wharton” weekends. Thought it was going to be Indy but nope and it certainly wasn’t going to be Daytona.

5 32 Justin Bogle Cushing, OK Honda CRF 250- Bogle followed Wharton around the whole race just yo-yo’ing off each other each lap. Good ride for Bogle but the divide between the three Pro Circuit riders and everyone else does shock me a bit.  

6 19 Jeremy Martin Millville, MN Yamaha YZ250F- We can build on this! J Mart’s had a terrible season so far, but on a track where he landed on the podium last year, he was pushed off early on in the main and was way back. From there he worked hard to get this result. He even battled his brother Alex at one point and I got to make my “My favorite Martin” joke on twitter that I like to do whenever they’re together. But even with this result, it’s shocking to see Martin be this bad this year. The good news is he’s out of the B practice with this result.  

7 96 Matthew Bisceglia Weatherford, TX Honda CRF 250- After a great ride at Indy, Bisceglia ends up with a decent finish at Daytona. I imagine that racing Daytona for the first time is a bit of an eye-opener.

8 42 Vince Friese Cape Girardeau, MO Honda CRF 250- Friese was sixth for a while before ending up with this finish. Not too bad, he was still top privateer.

9 30 Kyle Cunningham Aledo, TX Honda CRF 250- Fourteenth to ninth for Cunningham so that’s good but he can’t quite seem to get a start this year.  

10 78 Matthew Lemoine Pilot Point, TX Kawasaki KX 250F- I still don’t know why Lemoine didn’t stay in 450’s- he was going well there. Much better to be a main event guy in there then a privateer finishing around tenth in 250’s.

11 47 Kyle Peters Greensboro, NC Honda CRF 250

12 56 James Decotis Peabody, MA Honda CRF 250-

13 52 Cole Thompson BRIGDEN, Canada KTM 250 SX-F- I don’t know what happened but Thompson was dead last early in the race. Seriously, he was way back there. So a thirteenth isn’t so bad really. In speaking to Cole it looks like he’s heading back to Canada for the summer to ride for the KTM team up there.

14 55 Alex Martin Millville, MN Yamaha YZ250F- Poor Troll. He was eighth until the last lap and for I think the third race in a row he went off the track and was riding (and crashing) in between the lanes somewhere out there. And just like that, a good finish turned into this. Poor Troll.

15 62 Mitchell Oldenburg Alvord, TX Honda CRF 250

16 49 Gavin Faith Fort Dodge, IA Honda CRF 250 – Pretty weird, really. Faith got good starts on the MCR 250 last year and doesn’t seem to be able to do the same this year. But Cunningham used to get good starts on his Star Yamaha bike but now can’t seem to get anywhere near the front. The MCR 250 giveth and it taketh away…

17 60 Jackson Richardson Wildomar, CA Honda CRF 250- The Aussie rider has been pretty solid this season considering that, like a lot of dudes, he’s doing it without a ton of support.

18 99 Justin Starling Deland, FL Honda CRF 250- Good finish for Starling who crashed really, really, really hard right in front of me in practice. Seriously, good on him for just being alive.

19 57 A J Catanzaro Portland, CT Honda CRF 250- The “Cat” had a good heat and in the main he was in sixth for a bit, crashed back to thirteenth and then at some point either crashed again or just slipped back to this finish. What could have been great turned out not so great.

20 91 Jacob Baumert Buckner, KY Kawasaki KX 250F

21 212 Auston Albers Hoschton, GA Suzuki RM-Z250

22 410 Jace Owen Mattoon, IL Honda CRF 250- I was pretty pumped on Owen’s speed early in the season and he certainly looks to have some skills. But then he also certainly looks like he hits the wall a bit when he gets into the main events.

Career night for Tickle at Daytona. Photo: Simon Cudby
Career night for Tickle at Daytona. Photo: Simon Cudby

450SX Results

1 1 Ryan Villopoto Seattle, WA Kawasaki KX 450F

2 94 Ken Roczen Murrieta, CA KTM 450 SX-F

3 5 Ryan Dungey Belle Plaine, MN KTM 450 SX-F- A solid ride by Dungey but he took too long to get by Wilson which enabled Roczen to catch and pass him. Hold on, Dungey taking too long to pass someone? Well knock me down with a feather…

4 20 Broc Tickle Holly, MI Suzuki RM-Z450- A week after setting a career best with his fifth at Indy, Tickle sets another career best with a nice ride at Daytona. Tickle, like Wil Hahn, is really coming on here lately and looking good. And this after a horrid qualifying practice where he was sixteenth. Yikes!  

5 29 Andrew Short Smithville, TX KTM 450 SX-F- Great ride for Short and Daytona is just up his alley. What, it’s rough, rutty, tough and you have to put in consistent laps? That’s right up the #29’s alley, actually. He had a crapload of Wil Hahn on his butt at the end but he fought him off and got his season best finish. Short’s one of three riders (Villopoto and Brayton) to finish in the top ten in every race this year.

6 23 William Hahn Menifee, CA Honda CRF 450- If you have an internet radio show, Wil Hahn WILL go on it. #shoeimoney

7 15 Dean Wilson Wesley Chapel, FL Kawasaki KX 450F- Seeing the black #15 on a while background on a Kawasaki seems to be getting a lot of people in the pits choked up. Wai…it’s just me?

8 44 Matthew Goerke Temecula, CA KTM 450 SX-F- Matt’s best finish of the year and I have to say, Jason Thomas called it. Not sure what he knew or saw in Goerke but JT knew that Matt had this in him.

9 10 Justin Brayton Cornelius, NC Yamaha YZ450F- Brayton’s starts were poop all night long and he was fighting to come to the front in most of his races. I think this track suited him a bit and he could’ve done something had he gotten out front so too bad for him.

10 33 Joshua Grant Corona, CA Yamaha YZ450F- Grant wasn’t very good in the night show. He had a first turn crash in his heat and he had to ride the LCQ to make it in- so this tenth place is very much a surprise for him and a good job as well.

11 21 Cole Seely Lake Elsinore, CA Honda CRF 450- Much like Davalos, Daytona is not a track that would reward a guy who rides like Cole. So this finish isn’t bad at all. Let’s see what he can do back on a real supercross track this weekend.

12 51 Justin Barcia Pinetta, FL Honda CRF 450

13 38 Phillip Nicoletti Bethel, NY Yamaha YZ450F- Figures that Nicoletti has his best finish of his (limited) season at Daytona. Filthy Phil is just sort of a greasy rider and Daytona is a greasy track. Nicoletti loves Unadilla and Daytona is a bit like that minus the rocks and the exploding port-a-potties.

14 800 Mike Alessi Hilliard, FL Suzuki RM-Z450- Alessi’s been riding very well lately because his starts are back. I don’t know where they went or where he found them (maybe under Jeff’s pillow?). A crash in the first turn robbed him of a potentially good ride. He had a good heat race so he was feeling it.

15 75 Joshua Hill Yoncalla, OR Suzuki RM-Z450- Hill had some controversy as he got lapped by Short and Tickle and then ended up passing both of those guys (and Tickle is his teammate!) back. Which is very weird. But anyways, Short’s mechanic wasn’t happy about this and then Hill’s mechanic wasn’t happy with Short’s mechanic not being happy and everyone was upset. It’s not often you see a guy unlap himself, that’s for sure. Take a look at Hill’s lap times and try to figure this out: laps 6 to 12 he was in the 1:11 to 1:14 range and in laps 13 to 19 he was in the 1:07 to 1:09 range. Very strange.

16 68 Chris Blose Phoenix, AZ Honda CRF 450- Blose has been pitting with the Factory Metal Works guys and trying to make it from race to race the best he can. He didn’t qualify last year at Daytona so this finish is probably not too bad.

17 77 Jimmy Albertson Shawnee, OK Honda CRF 450- There’s a Albertson fan named Sinjin that calls into the Pulpmx Show every now and then. He called in Monday very upset with Jimmy’s rides once he gets into the main event. And I kind of have to agree with him. In a semi, we saw Jimmy lead and come up a couple of bike lengths short of winning (thanks Wil Hahn for denying us an air wheelie over the finish-jerk!) so we see that he’s got some speed in him. But when was the last time you watched a main event and saw Albertson up there and showing his speed? We’ve seen Wey, Blose, Alessi and those types of guys shine here and there but Albertson hasn’t quite done it yet. I’m saying this from a place of love. I’m a Top Jimmy fan, I’m just worried about Sinjin’s mental health.

18 7 James Stewart Haines City, FL Suzuki RM-Z450- Oh Stew. After his Dallas win he was fourteen points down and the yellow rain train was gaining huge momentum. We were discussing how we thought JS7 was going to be RV’s main threat the rest of the season. And then he crushes practice in Atlanta and but then goes down early in the main event while running second. Then in Indy he crushes it again in practice and ends up in the first turn crash. And in Daytona he crushed his header on Alessi’s downed bike, forcing him into the pits for repairs. And oh by the way, he’s over 50 points down to Villopoto now. If it weren’t for bad luck, Stew wouldn’t have any luck at all.

19 415 Nicholas Schmidt Riverside, CA Honda CRF 450- Schmidt’s magic is back, he rode well in the LCQ to pass his buddy Adam “Black Forest Ham” Enticknap and fight for a qualifying spot.

20 606 Ronnie Stewart Easton, PA Suzuki RM-Z450- Ronnie’s into the main event once again using some good sprint speed and starts to make it happen. Not a good night to be named Stewart though…18th, 20th and 21st for the Stewart’s at Daytona. And I think Tony Stewart didn’t do much in the 500 either!

21 34 Malcolm Stewart Haines City, FL Honda CRF 450- Can I just say again that Mookie really, really needs to get off the 250 and onto a 450 full-time? In whatever way he has to do it he needs to do it.

22 27 Nicholas Wey Murrieta, CA Kawasaki KX 450F- Wey had a muffler malfunction early in the race that knocked him out. And no, he wasn’t happy.

Some other news and notes:

- Coming off his first career podium last week and a switch to a more production-based CRF450, Eli Tomac was looking for big things this weekend. He raced this event last year and did well coming through the back for fourth. Well, it wasn’t too be this weekend as he swapped hard and went down on the far right hand side of the track (standing from the pits). He didn’t even bother to get his bike, he walked off and sat down on the grass to collect his thoughts and probably to stop the birds from tweeting.  Not five minutes later he was down again after swapping and going over the bars on the far left hand side of the track. And that was it, it was Daytona-1 Eli Tomac-0 for 2014 and he called it a day. Too bad for Tomac, his season has been pretty been much a write-off so far.

Tomac missed Daytona following two big crashes in practice.  Photo: Simon Cudby
Tomac missed Daytona following two big crashes in practice.  Photo: Simon Cudby

- I may have erred last week in writing that Tomac has a rider option for 2015. Although two different agents told me that Tomac was sniffing around, I was told this weekend by the GEICO Honda guys that Eli indeed has a contract for 2015 with them and all sides expect him to be there. My apologies on this and for the 73rd time, I’ve got to stop believing everything the agents of the sport tell me.

- It’s the Daytona Supercross by Honda but Kawasaki ended up painting the speedway green this past Saturday night. They had the two fastest qualifiers, they won both of the heats and both of the main events. There’s nothing sweeter for these companies than doing that at another company’s race. You might say that everyone else was green with envy…

- We think that Kenny Roczen is going to RCH next year and we’re pretty sure that Justin Barcia is going to JGR Yamaha for next year but it’s still funny to see how these guys aren’t going out of their way to not make it obvious. I saw Roczen talking to RCH guys personally three or four times and Mark Johnson (team manager for RCH) favorited a tweet I sent out with a picture of…Kenny Roczen! And MJ doesn’t even follow me either. Jason Thomas said he saw Barcia walking the track with JGR Yamaha manager Jeremy Albrecht for a bit. Keep your eyes out, people, sometimes things are right under your nose…

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it and remember, cheese is really, really, really wack. Email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat.

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