Shoulder problems are becoming the theme of 2018, with three 450 class championship contenders having issues in the first two rounds. Dean Wilson and Eli Tomac hurt their shoulders in crashes in Anaheim that forced them not to line up in Houston. In the second timed practice, Justin Cooper went down, landing hard on his shoulder and cracking some ribs. Then in 450 heat two, last week’s winner Marvin Musquin’s championship run was thrown upside-down as he endo’ed into the whoops, popping out his left shoulder.
“After qualifying third today, I went down hard in the whoops in my heat race,” Musquin said in a statement. “I landed on my left shoulder and felt really beat up. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to line up for the rest of night. I'm really disappointed about that given the team and I were in a good place after our win last weekend. But I will get checked up as soon as I get home and will know more in the next few days. Supercross is a longer season so I'm hopeful I will be able to line up in Anaheim 2.”
Jason Anderson’s been nipping at Musquin’s heals since Monster Energy Cup and settling for seconds, but not in Houston. Although Musquin was out for the main, Anderson, on the other hand, had a perfect day. He was fastest in qualifying, won his heat, and took the checkers in the main.
“Houston was probably the most perfect day I’ve ever had in my career,” Anderson said in a team statement. “I won every time I was on the track—both practices, heat race, and main. It was a battle, but it was awesome. I’m in the zone but, at the same time, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I feel good and I’m in a good spot."
Ken Roczen only missed the podium by one spot last week, and would you have believed it’d only take him two races to get back on the box? How many until he gets a win? He was close, as he led more laps than Anderson, but Anderson ultimately was able to make a pass and pull away.
“This was a good weekend for us,” said Roczen in a team statement. “I’m really stoked to be able to deliver a podium to the team in only our second race back. I would’ve loved to win it, obviously, but Jason [Anderson] was going good all day, so I wasn’t going to just send it and do something stupid. I had two good starts in the heat and main event and just tried to ride smart in both. I had some good battles with Justin [Barcia] and Jason; it was clean and fun. We’re moving in the right direction. It’s only the second round and everything is going how we planned. I don’t think there’s much more we could ask for.”
Justin Barcia has back-to-back podiums in 2018. Monster Energy/Knich/Factory Yamaha has to be happy with that. “My mechanic Shaun told me tonight, ‘You had 100 mistakes at Anaheim, so if you have 50 mistakes today, you’ll be a lot better.’ And I had about 50 mistakes tonight,” said Barcia in the post-race press conference. “It just all comes with the territory, the racing. For me, I’m just getting more comfortable. I really don’t have that much time on the new Yamaha yet, and I’m just getting more used to the way it does things and the way it reacts and stuff. Of course, I did have a few mistakes. I did have a few back to back as well, which can be frustrating, but I thought for me, I held my cool and regrouped and made a good charge back. The track was super challenging tonight. Jason was definitely on another level. It was awesome to have Ken back battling with him a little bit. It’s been a long time. So, it was a fun night, all in all. Definitely got a few things to work on still, but it’s a long season and just taking it race by race. One hundred mistakes last week, 50 this week, maybe 25 next week, and be in a good spot.”
Cole Seely was able to make a run at Barcia in the main and pass him, only to be passed back a few laps later and knocked off the box. “I’m frustrated with tonight because Justin [Barcia] shouldn’t have gotten back by me, but overall, fourth is still good,” said Seely in a team statement. “Other riders had much worse nights than I did, so I can’t really complain. I had a hard time getting back into my flow and hitting my lines after he got back by me. We’re still making progress and I’m happy about that; I just want to get on the podium where I belong, and tonight, I was so close.”
Back-to-back fifth-place finishes for Weston Peick. “This weekend went well for me. The goal was to back up my top-five finish from Anaheim 1, and I succeeded,” said Peick in a team statement. “The track was technical and constantly breaking down, with big whoops and lots of ruts. Houston proved that I can handle the ever-changing conditions. I’m excited for Anaheim 2. My next target is to get on the podium. With good starts and consistent lap times, I should be able to achieve that. I’m really gelling with the RM-Z450, and I like the progress that we’re making.”
Blake Baggett was rumored to have huge speed during the pre-season, but it didn’t show up at Anaheim 1, where he finished 12th. His seventh at Houston was better. “Tonight I felt more confident,” he said in a team statement. ”We made a few changes this week and things are progressing in the right direction. I’m looking forward to Anaheim 2 next weekend and a podium finish.”
Broc Tickle came in behind Baggett with an eighth. “I was really looking forward to Houston this weekend, I had a really good week of riding and I felt really comfortable coming into this round,” said Tickle. “Overall, it was a decent night, I’m not pumped with where I finished but I am better than what I was last year. With that being said, that’s showing progress for myself but I’m not okay with 8th, I feel like I should be fighting for podiums and inside the top five each and every weekend so I’ll keep working this week, ride with the boys and put in another showing at Anaheim.”
“There are a lot of positives we can build on,” Josh Grant said after taking ninth. “Taking the holeshot in my heat race showed our hard work on my starts is paying off. We’re in the hunt, I’m feeling confident and we’ll continue to put in the work so we can be on the podium.”
Houston was the second of three 450 supercross races Jeremy Martin will be lining up for in 2018. He finished tenth. “Felt good all day on a very tough technical track that became very rutty,” said Martin. “Qualified sixth-fastest in practice. Got out of the gate good in my heat race, but made a couple rookie moves in the next two sections to slide back to tenth before settling in sixth spot when the checkered flag flew. Got a great jump from the outside on the main, but [Cooper] Webb bashed the side of me and we both went flying off the track in the first turn. Came from last to tenth place for the main.”
Malcolm Stewart’s original plan was to join the series as a privateer at Anaheim 2. With Justin Bogle sidelined from his head injuries and a good rapport with Autotrader/Yoshimura Suzuki team manager Jeremy Albrecht, who used to wrench for Malcolm’s older brother James, Malcolm got the call to fill in for two races. “I tell you, going eight months without a gate drop feels like forever! It’s great to be back doing what I love to do. I have to give a huge shoutout to the Autotrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing team for giving me the opportunity to race. I appreciate the fans for sticking by me through thick and thin. The Houston fans made me feel like I was home again, so thanks! I’m looking forward to getting more time on the bike and making a big impact at Anaheim 2.”
2018 isn’t going so well for Cooper Webb so far: “Another shit night in Houston,” said Webb in an Instagram post. “Crashed in first corner onto the pavement and broke my clutch lever off. Managed a 12th. Time to sink or swim.”
Chad Reed is still working himself into race shape after having less than two hours on the bike prior to Anaheim 1 since his broken ankle back in October at Red Bull Straight Rhythm. He also lost his rear brake in the main, which never helps.
Henry Miller, the guy who turned a lot of heads this summer in outdoor motocross as a privateer, made his first 450 main event in Houston. “Houston was a roller coaster for myself. Went down hard third lap of free practice and struggled all night after that due to the side effects of my crash,” he said. “Got to take the good from the bad though. I made my first ever 450 supercross main event, which was really cool to be able to line up with all those guys. Ended up finishing 19th in the main event that night!”
Eli Tomac rode practice to see if he could work through his shoulder problem, but ultimately decided to sit the night out. “We did everything we could this week to work through the injury but I didn’t feel right on the bike and I wasn’t able to ride at race speed,” said Tomac. “We have to think about the rest of the season, so we’re going to take it day-by-day and focus on getting healthy for Anaheim 2.”
Autotrader/Yoshimura Suzuki team manager Jeremy Albrecht’s comment on Houston: “Overall, there were quite a few positives from this weekend. Weston had a solid ride. He improved from last week. Malcolm was riding really well for having been on the Suzuki RM-Z450 a few times. With more time on the bike he should have a better result at Anaheim. Malcolm was great to work with. He was super positive and loves the bike. It was great that Malcolm also went to the post race press conference. He wants to be involved, which is awesome.”
Aaron Plessinger got his second 250 supercross win and will run the red plate in Anaheim next week as the new series points leader. “The first few laps were pretty crazy. I’m not sure how I managed to get all the way up through there, but on lap three, the only thing I knew was I in fifth or sixth place and I was catching these guys pretty significantly,” he said post-race. “Just put my head down and charged forward. This track was really, really sketchy. I just made some good passes and had some good lines. These guys were riding great. It was just my kind of track.”
Joey Savatgy was running up front for most of the main when he was passed by Plessinger for second. Savatgy fell several times last year while leading. With the track deteriorating this weekend and sketchy lines, he backed it down to not throw it all away and to collect valuable championship points. “I felt like I was riding fast to be comfortable on that track,” said Savatgy. “I seemed to catch lappers at a bad spot, not allowing me to catch first, but I didn’t want to ride over my head in only the second round of the season. The track changed every lap and it was challenging to pick up time, so in the end, I’m really happy to get second.”
In just his second career race, GEICO Honda’s Chase Sexton finished on the podium. “Last weekend I got an eighth, and I wasn’t really happy with that. I was shooting tonight for a top five. I was riding sixth the whole moto and made two passes and I was in fourth. Then Adam [Cianciarulo] ended up crashing. That was like two laps to go, and I was set up for a podium. I was just trying to get through those two laps. I’m really happy to come away with a podium.”
Shane McElrath lost his 250SX West Region points lead but wasn’t disappointed to have salvaged fourth-place points on a tricky race track. ““The track was very challenging as it changed every lap we rode. Lots of riders were having trouble, so I wanted to make sure we kept it off the ground and stayed in the hunt. This is only the second race, so we can’t throw it away with a track as tough as we saw tonight. I am really looking toward the long-term goal as well as winning races, so we’ll be back strong next week.”
Christian Craig came into the weekend with a sprained ankle. He over-jumped a section at Carson Mumford’s track in Adelanto, California. GEICO Honda’s team manager Dan Bentley said he didn’t even crash. He did two therapy sessions a day to get ready for Saturday. He just landed hard and it swelled up. As for Houston, “It felt fine, and then in the main, my foot slipped out third lap and it hit the ground. That one kind of spooked me,” said Craig. “That kind of made me tense up a little bit, but I’m not going to blame my ride on my ankle. I finished fifth and I had a podium position right in front of me. I was stuck with those guys all race and I’m pretty frustrated of how I finished. At least the ankle injury is out of the way. It’s just going to get better, so I don’t need to worry about it anymore.”
Coming off a podium from Anaheim 1, Adam Cianciarulo was looking good in third again, but ending up sampling the dirt twice in the main to finish seventh. “I know the track was really tough, but it stings a little bit when I was feeling good all day,” he said. “It was a big learning experience for me as I adapt more to the hard pack race tracks that change so much over the course of 15 minutes. I know I can bounce back next weekend in Anaheim, so I’m looking forward to it.”
"I'm glad I was able to better my results, from a tenth to a ninth this week," 51Fifty Yamaha’s Kyle Chisholm said after the main. "I'm still adapting to the Yamaha, and tonight with the deep ruts, I was somewhat cautious and played it smart until I learned more how this bike reacts in those situations. I'll keep chipping away and know a top-five is around the corner."
Defending 250SX West Region champion Justin Hill is having a rocky start to his 2018 season, with seventh- and tenth-place finishes. “I struggled all day and felt off. I’ve never had an entire day where I made zero progress. From the very first time my wheels touched the track, all of the way until the checkered flag flew in the main event, I didn’t get any better. My comfort level was off. We had a few minor tweaks that needed to be made to the rear suspension on my bike, but I didn’t ride the RM-Z250 for what it was worth. I was in a funk. It’s difficult, because I had the speed at Anaheim 1, but bad starts kept me from running towards the front.
“At Houston, the speed was not there,” continued Hill. “It was a total 180-degree turn from the opening round. I’m definitely disappointed in myself. Everyone on the team wants to help, and I’m grateful for their support. I will be working with a few members of the team this week to try some different settings. I’ve never wanted to win so badly.”
Autotrader.com/Yoshimura Suzuki team manager Jeremy Albrecht also commented on Hill. “The Houston track was super gnarly and very technical, with really challenging whoops,” said Albrecht. “Hill crashed in the whoops in the first time qualifying session, and I believe that threw him off his rhythm. Justin got hit in the first turn in the main event and lost his rear brake. It was tough for him to manage the track without a rear brake, given how many bowl turns were out there. As for Nicoletti, he rode well considering how banged up he was. He was in pain every time he rode, but he fought through it. I expect everyone on the team to come out swinging at the next round.”
Dakota Alix powered out of the gate and again put himself inside the top five after the first lap. Staying focused on the ever-changing track, Dakota held strong to finish the night in 11th place.
Phil Nicoletti is tough. He cracked some ribs in his crash in Anaheim, but that didn’t stop him from lining up at round two. “The track was very demanding. I struggled to find a flow after not riding all week. I had to take time off after my Anaheim 1 crash in order to let my body heal, so I knew it would be challenging to find a good feeling in Houston. I went to the doctor after the Anaheim opener, and it was discovered that I had a few cracked and misplaced ribs. I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to let my body heal before coming back strong at Anaheim 2.”
“I felt really good in practice,” Mitchell Harrison said after taking 13th. “The bike was great. I got the holeshot in the heat then crashed, but I was able to come back to ninth and qualify for the main. I got a decent start in the main, but I rode tight. I have some things to work on, and I hope to do better next week at Anaheim."
"I felt good all night and was having a blast out there," Hayden Mellross mentioned. "I was up there during my heat race battling and felt that I really had something for those guys during the main. It's a bummer to go down early like that, but I'm glad I was able to get back up and get after it. A 15th doesn't always look good on paper, but I feel good after the effort we put in this weekend."