The finale is finally here! Seven rounds in three weeks has been a wild and unprecedented run. Every aspect of the sport is going to get a much-needed breather before we go outdoor racing. For now, though, Sunday’s Monster Energy AMA Supercross finale is all that matters. We have three champions to crown, and while the 450SX series might be more of a technicality compared to the 250SX chaos, it’s still possible for Cooper Webb to find a miracle. Let’s take a look at the track for this week.
[Note: Jason Thomas raced professionally from 1997-2012.]
Dirty Little Secrets
The start has been moved again this week with the gates placed in the middle of the course. The start straight is fairly short this week and that means riders will be bunched together as they enter the 180 left. Look for some contact as riders jockey for position in close quarters. Also, expect Eli Tomac to start on the inside gates, reducing risk of a big crash.
As riders exit the first corner, there is a fairly big option to consider. This won’t be the line on the first lap but in the racing laps to follow, look for the 450’s to go big here. Swinging wide on corner entry, riders could triple-quad and basically be done with the section. The 250’s will be forced into a much less exciting option but watch for this to be a separator during the qualifying sessions.
The next right bowl berm will send riders into an easy on-off, followed by a triple onto tabletop and step-off. That triple on-step off has been a staple of these SLC rounds. A 90-degree right is followed by six identical jumps. The immediate thought will be, “Can I just go 3-3 and be done with this?” I don’t think so. Most riders will want to stay inside in the corner, forcing them to double. They will then be able to triple in the middle of these and single out, angling across the inside of the next 90-degree corner. Staying to the inside in these 90’s is critical for protecting your position.
Coming from the inside, riders will either double to the downside of the next tabletop, or possibly step-on and skip to the next tabletop. That will depend on the build of the jumps but watch for riders to test the waters here. Skipping across tabletops is extremely fast but also very difficult. In either scenario, riders will land on the same single jump before executing a big triple up. That triple up could prove critical for the underpowered 250’s. A small double ends this long rhythm section and empties into another 90-degree right.
The only supercross triple is next and leads immediately into a hard 180 right. Riders will either go 3-2 or 2-3 in the next short section. The 3-2 should be faster but also requires more setup in the corner. Watch for riders to try both options, analyze the video, and make their choice for a race line.
The next section could prove to be the most pivotal. There is a long whoops section leading into the finish line. Whoops before the finish line always ups the ante for chaos. Riders can “send it” through the whoops, making a last-ditch effort to pass. If you’re weak in the whoops, sections like this cause anxiety. If whoops are your strength, this section presents huge opportunity. Negating weakness and exploiting strength is what this game is all about.
The finish line jump is immediately out of the next bowl berm and riders turn back onto the start straight at the base of the landing. This turn back onto the start straight will be a slippery one. With nothing to pivot from, watch for riders like Ken Roczen to exert their skillful throttle control. Exuberance is not rewarded in corners like this. The only downside is that it will be very one-lined with the inside dominating.
For those who are doing well in fantasy, sleep might be tough to find tonight. With the 250SX East/West Showdown being the most volatile race of the year, picks will be agonizing. This main event is so incredibly hard to qualify for. The privateers that can find a way in will be rewarded handsomely. It’s a big risk/big reward play to pick some of the popular outliers. The key is to get in out of the heat race as the LCQ will be an absolute madhouse, combining both coasts.
There will be those that play it safe and hope to get all 8 riders into the main events. Others will take this opportunity to go all-in. If you can find the perfect mix of privateers that squeak into the main event, you could throw up a massive 250 score. You could also annihilate your chances with this same strategy. With so much depth in the 250 west, this is going to be a very challenging dynamic for the 250 east privateers. I expect the 250 west to dominate the LCQ, leaving little air for the east to maneuver in. Riders like Curren Thurman, Kevin Moranz, Lorenzo Locurcio, Chase Marquier, and John Short are going to need to be at their peak to find a way in. Snatching the last spot or two in the heat race is the best route. That LCQ is not going to be favorable for any east rider. Take a look at this west rider lineup and remember, only 9 will qualify from the heat, dumping the rest into the mixed-coast LCQ.
That is a nasty group of factory-backed riders to navigate through. Even riders like Clout and Oldenburg, who are the only ones not on full factory equipment but do have connections, have top five finishes to their credit. Nine of these will transfer, sending three into the LCQ. This list doesn’t even factor in fast west privateers like Robbie Wageman, Martin Castelo, and Mitchell Falk. Scary stuff if you’re an east coast privateer.
For the 450’s, it’s all about value picks. There aren’t many available spots for the lesser known privateers. Having said that, Mason Kerr found his way in a couple of rounds ago. The smarter route seems to be with riders like Blake Baggett, Benny Bloss, Justin Brayton, etc. These factory riders might not get you the 40+ points that an Enticknap or Noren could, but they are also a main event guarantee. Going with riders like Carlen Gardner, the aforementioned Enticknap and Noren, Alex Ray, or Ryan Breece is asking for at least one to not qualify. There simply aren’t enough open spots for this level of rider to get in. The field is healthy and main event spots are at a premium.
The 450SX class risk/reward is not as volatile as the 250SX class but it’s still tough in its own way. Picking the Bloss/Baggett/Brayton/Plessinger/Davalos combinations require confidence that they are going to finish inside the top 12 or so. That’s not an easy ask. These riders have been straddling that line and it really comes down to variance on a particular main event. Will this be the main event that Baggett gets a fourth, or he gets 14th? Both are very possible. Flip a coin and hope for the best.
The 250SX main event is chaos defined with drama throughout.
Cooper Webb wins from gate to flag.
The 250SX main event gate picks are approached like an international chess match.
Chad Reed announces he’s coming back for 17 more in an emotional Wolf of Wall Street “I’m not leaving” type speech.
Eli Tomac rides at 80% of his ability, cruising the #3 home in seventh place for his first Monster Energy AMA Supercross title.