The final stretch of the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship is upon us, as round 15 wrapped up on Sunday evening inside of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In the 450SX main event, it was Ken Roczen claiming his fourth win of 2020 after passing Cooper Webb early in the race and maintaining a gap the rest of the way. Eli Tomac came home in third to keep his points lead close to one full race distance heading into the penultimate round.
All three riders spoke with the media in a Zoom press conference call after the race, hosted by NBC Sports’ Daniel Blair.
Racer X: Eli, you, Kenny, and Cooper were all at one point three seconds apart, each one of you. It just seemed like nobody could make up much distance. In that main event, at least in the second half, were you in management mode at all? Did you have another gear that you maybe could have found?
Eli Tomac: I was pushing the first half, like you said. I was actually creeping up on the front two there and then it wasn’t enough. I hit a few lappers and didn’t get through them really clean. Then they both kind of broke away a little bit. At that point, it wasn’t worth the push from me. I was trying. Got a little bit sketchy in the whoops twice. I’m like, all right, let’s change lines here. I moved over. That left side actually was quite a bit better. I was bummed I didn’t see that early on. I was fast in the start of the race, but then I had a few of those little squirrel moments and was a little bit bummed about that. The pace was pretty hot there. I was kind of in no-man’s land, it felt like, after halfway.
Cooper, it looked like late in that main event you started getting that rhythm section after what was the first corner, wheelieing or jumping up over then going three, three. I saw you doing that earlier in the day. What took so long to get that in the main event? I know you did it early, but I didn’t see it early in the main.
Cooper Webb: I was able to do it in practice and during the heat I tried it a few times. I think the track work they did, it changed the angles a bit and I couldn’t do it in the heat. I tried about four times. I think I tried it the last three laps of the main, just really trying to make something happen. It was something that I just felt like wasn’t quite there. I wish I would have tried it a little sooner. It was tough tonight. We were all so close in times that it was a game of tenths here and there. I felt like I charged hard there at the last half, but just too late. I let him get out front and he had that gap. It was still a good race, but we were all close in times for sure.
Kenny, congratulations. My question to you is just that five and ten minutes that you’re on the gate before the main, with everything that you’re going through, it just seems like it’s been piling on. What are you thinking about before the gate drops? Is there hope? Is there optimism?
Ken Roczen: I honesty just always lay it out there. I don’t ever want to give up, but obviously some of the races, like the last two, honestly last three were just crazy. I just go as long as I can. Obviously, that hasn’t really been the whole race. Like my post on Instagram said, I’m just going to come here and try again. It’s really tough after having so many negative races in a row - three of them, really. I try to come here and pretend like nothing ever happened. It’s tough. I knew at least from Wednesday until Sunday that I have a little bit more time to get everything back in check. It’s a bummer that it has been the way it has been, but at the same time there’s nothing really, I can change. I’m always going out there and trying to do my best. I’m not saying that from Sunday and then Wednesday and now that all of a sudden, I go from zero to a hundred and everything is a hundred percent, but I just need it to be where it’s manageable.
Ken, You took the lead at the halfway point of the race. Considering how these last few have gone, where your energy levels have seemed to slip off these last few weeks. What was your pace like and what did it feel like for you? Did it feel like once you got over a hurdle, things came easier?
It honestly felt somewhat natural. Obviously, all the laps have been super short. We’re obviously always racing 20 plus one but having that many laps the tracks get chewed up. I was just hitting my marks. It wasn’t like I was going a crazy, crazy speed or whatever, but you couldn’t because those flat turns can really get you. I don’t know if I was necessarily the best there [in those turns]. I don’t think I was, but I was really trying not to stall the bike either because we’re literally almost in a dead stop right there. So that made for some interesting racing because we had two flat turns like that. Other than that, I really just tried to hit my marks, ride as clean as possible. The whoops got really chewed up. We had a couple of rutty turns.
Kenny, you announced you have shingles. What is the actual physical feeling?
It was crazy because in the morning you wake up and you take things slow and whatever. Then I went out to practice and I came back in and I got changed and my wife was actually like… I had a red mark right on my tailbone. It wasn’t that big. It wasn’t huge, but it was starting to blister. So, we were like, what the heck? I had Dr. Bodnar look at it and whatnot. After the race I went and got a blood test done to see if that’s what it was, and I did test positive for it. But the good thing was that as soon as that started Dr. Bodnar put me on some medication. It popped up, and the same afternoon after the race I could go and get the medication. I think it’s an immune system problem again. I just felt super lethargic. Obviously, you can see how I was riding out there. I’ve never seen anything like it. I just had no aggression. I felt tired. It was like I was out of my body. It was crazy. I didn’t really get any crazy pains like how some people said that’s what shingles do. I think that’s because we caught it super early. It started opening up at one point, like the blisters start opening. But we got lucky that we caught it early. Now it’s starting to go away.
Kenny, great ride tonight. Judging off your last few races, this was quite a surprise. Did you surprise yourself?
After those last races of course, this came as a little bit of a surprise. My dad actually messaged me in the morning and wished me good luck and I told him I’m winning today. I kind of just put it in my head. It’s hard to judge because obviously even on the races that I didn’t do good, the heat race was fine, but I always feel throughout the day that there’s something lingering. There’s still something that makes you tired and makes you feel weird. It’s really hard to describe. I think only people that have experienced Epstein-Barr and the whole shingles and the immune system problem that I have, I guess, can understand. Having said that, I’ve struggled with this before and managed it just fine. I think I just got to a point right now where it’s backed off enough or suppressed enough to where I can handle it.
Eli, are you happy where you’re at right now with the points at two races to go?
I think I’m in a good spot right now. I’m still in a position to where if I go perform next week and win, I can control my own destiny that way. So, I’m happy right now. That’s really all I have to say. I’m in a good spot, I think.
Ken, I consulted a couple altitude experts and it looks like you’re staying up in Park City and they don’t know why you would stay at a higher attitude in-between the races. Can you maybe explain that decision?
Actually, coming into this slept in an altitude tent as well, so I prepared myself for higher altitude. I was pretty confident in myself that I would have plenty of time to recover. It’s really all about being acclimated and being up there. Then obviously racing at lower altitude was a good idea.
They said typically it’s about fourteen days and here we are fourteen days from the start, and you look pretty good.
Yeah. Everything takes and adjustment period, but like I said, I’ve done my share of preparing myself for the altitude even ahead of time.
Cooper and Eli, what are your guys’ thoughts on that first turn? Cooper, you clearly hit the brakes and kind of slid and definitely made contact with Eli’s front wheel. Maybe you two kind of talk through that.
Cooper: I didn’t even know that. I was coming in hot. I knew someone was on my outside. I was just trying to keep my line and the bales seemed to come up quick, so I had to hit the brakes. I felt like I hit somebody, but I didn’t know who it was.
Eli: It was close there. First turns are always chaos.
Eli, with that first-turn incident you could have very easily went down. It seems like a lot of times in championship years when you’re on pace to win a championship, things just start falling into place, some of those little things that could go wrong in other years. Do you sense that, that everything is going right?
It’s so hard to say. For one, we still have two to go. It’s so hard to say. I look back at other years and you always think about a couple races that you could have done better or made a few more passes. I don’t know, maybe that is there. We’ll see. For sure though, I’ve made better recoveries this year. When I look back at races like Atlanta, a few of those races where I have been buried back, those other years I’ve gotten ninths and tenths and this year I’ve been able to get back to fourth or third or whatever it may be. So that is what has been different this year.
Kenny, I don’t know if you got the memo, but riders are supposed to be really guarded about their health and not tell anybody anything. Throughout your career, you’ve been fully transparent. do you feel it’s important to be so transparent?
It is what it is. If you’re out there and doing good and winning races and getting on the podium and then all of a sudden you get lapped twice and you’re tenth and just fading after ten minutes, it’s obvious. I’m hoping to get that definitely in check. I’m trying. Once everything is in check, I think it’ll be a little bit more on the outside. If I get beat because I’m not the best or whatever, then so be it. I would love that. I just want that to be it. But always struggling with some kind of issue that’s going on is super annoying. Trust me. I’m sick of hearing it. I’m sure everybody else is. But I can only control so many things. I’m trying my best. There’s some people that have had Epstein-Barr before and it’s ruined their entire career. We’re trying. We’re doing our best to keep everything dormant. Sometimes obviously being up here at altitude, it’s for everybody the same and I feel like if I didn’t have this issue, we wouldn’t be talking about this, but it’s definitely not ideal. But at the same time, I never came here saying, “I’ve got a problem. This is not going to be good for me.” I would never do that. I always come in with a clean slate and try my best, and then unfortunately things like this happen. The only good thing I guess is just that when there is something, obviously there is something - like for example with the shingles. So, it’s not like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m just wondering what’s going on, or I’m just not that bad, I guess.
Today very similar to on Wednesday. You started right behind Cooper. It looked like you had the speed to go by him on Wednesday but just couldn’t find the line. How important was it for you to get by him today so you could relax and ride your own laps up front?
It’s definitely good. Even before Wednesday, I’ve never even gotten in actual time behind Cooper. So, it was nice in the heat race when we were battling. I was behind him and just actually learn a little bit more about him. So, we kind of found ourselves in the same position. We’re all trying. There was clean racing going on and everything. I was definitely wanting to, if I can make a pass happen, make it happen, and then go for however long I can go and do my best. Like what we said earlier. Sometimes it was really tough to make up time. In practice we were all super, super close. But tonight, I think I just felt good. I felt really good with the bike. I felt good with the track and everything. So, I think it was just my night.
Eli, overall, the races in Salt Lake have been really clean between you and Kenny and Cooper, but with both of them needing you to make a huge mistake for them to get this title. How much head space have you given to somebody taking a shot at you? Have you done any type of thought about that and what you might do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
I’m not in those guys’ heads. I still have a really nice points lead. We’re going to be racing each other for a few more years, so there’s always a chance of retaliation in wrecking other peoples’ day.
For Cooper and Ken, as these last couple races come down, between tonight and Sunday, three races, eight days, are you more confident in your mental strength or your physical fitness level?
Kenny: Obviously, tonight has been a big step for me in the right direction so I’m going to obviously do my best to try and keep the same level up and get even better. It was good for me to see that I can get these things in check and make the whole distance. Like I said, I was gelling really well with the bike. We’ve been tweaking it here and there. I was really happy with it tonight. I want to come back on Wednesday clean slate. Even with these wins, it’s nice after having some down races to get this win. It’s definitely nice going into the next race knowing that we had a good night. So, I’m going to hold onto that positive energy. Feel good about myself. Just come back and try again.
Cooper: I feel like I’m in a good spot. Two more to go. I think Eli, like he said, is in a good position. I know it’s getting tight now with me and Ken now for second in the series. I’m looking forward to these last two. Obviously, the championship is the goal, but if it’s not the championship second in points is always a plus. I think we’re all three riding really good. It’s nice me and Eli have been battling and tonight we saw Ken get in there. Seems like he’s figured out his health tonight and should be back to normal, which will be cool. So, I think the three of us should hopefully battle these last two and it should be pretty fun.
Eli: It seems like right now it’s us three, and Zach, that really can make the full distance right now. Not really going to change anything. Just try to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
Eli, even though everybody right now is talking about you closing in on what’s going to be your first supercross championship, the other thing you’ve been doing lately with these race wins is establishing your hierarchy in the all-time wins list. Considering you have quite a while left in your career to go, you’ve never really talked about how important this is. Is this something that you’ve put a lot of thought into right now? Or is it just a nice addition to everything else that goes on with racing?
It’s hard to talk about where you’re at on the list. Try to just get through these two and then see where we’re at.
Cooper, into that really rutted corner you kept going two-two all night where other guys were going three, one. Was there something that you felt like, I need to do this, instead of launching all the way into those ruts?
No. I think I was actually hitting the whoops really good tonight. I haven’t watched the video, but it just seemed like I couldn’t jump out like I needed to kind of downside the last whoop to get the three. So that was something that I just kept kind of messing up. The three, one was definitely I think a little bit quicker. It was definitely not strategy. It was more just not being able to get that section quite right. I would have loved to be able to do it every lap, for sure.
Eli, I know outdoors last year you worked really hard at Washougal and Budds Creek to try to win those races and wrap the title early. So, is that the goal going in, to try to get this done early? Or are you just going to try to take what you can get, kind of the way the second half of this main event worked out?
It would be nice. It would be really nice. If the start is there and I’m in the position, heck yeah. I’m going to go for it. Got to think long game at this point. If the start is there, an opportunity is there, heck yeah. I’m going to go for it.
If you prefer to watch the press conference, watch the archive below: