The supersized supercross experiment at Atlanta Motor Speedway is now one race deep, and we already need more. Moving Monster Energy Supercross in Atlanta from the domes to the infield of a NASCAR track offers more room (and tons, literally, of free dirt) that offered up a “supercross on steroids” size track. There’s great potential, but it’s hard to judge it from this small sample size, which ended up dodging rain all day. Three practices got cut to one, and the heat races were a slippery mess. By the main events, the track turned out pretty good, but we’ll have a better gauge of how this looks once this three-race set here is complete in a week.
One thing we expected is that Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac might have an advantage, just based on his stellar five-wins-in-six-years record at Daytona International Speedway, the other NASCAR infield track on the circuit. But Atlanta’s track isn’t really like Daytona. Instead of a hybrid supercross/motocross mix, this was simply a regular supercross track stretched to three times its normal length. The goal was 1:30 lap times. Regardless, the results sheet shows it works well for Tomac, who put in one of his patented late-race charges to net the win. He liked the track a lot! However, even his performance needs another look at the Tuesday and Saturday tilts here, because for much of the event it looked like the newcomers were about to triumph. Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger built a big lead early but then crashed in a corner, and then Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton led the rest of the way, until he was held up by a lapped rider just as Tomac caught him. Tomac sailed by and took the lead and the win. Tomac’s speed on his Monster Energy Kawasaki was undeniable, but the younger set almost had their moment on the big track. Still, the pre-race predictions of a Tomac win came true.
“Eli Tomac likes these races, but I don’t know what everyone else thinks!” Tomac said with a laugh. “There’s more room. It’s more high speed so maybe some people don’t like it. I’d like to have more, but this year is unique with having three here. But in a normal year, maybe adding one more along with Daytona would be cool.”
Plessinger showed his legitimacy by pulling away from series’ leader Cooper Webb off the start. His gap was up to five seconds and the limited crowd in the bleachers—who had braved the rain all day, an unfortunate side effect of not racing in a dome—seemed to love it. Not only has Plessinger’s riding improved lately, so has the love from the fans. They cheered him on the front stretch for six laps, until he dumped it in a corner and threw the lead away. This left Sexton, who had also battled past Webb, in the lead. Tomac got rolling and began to close on the rookie, and as the white flag loomed, a spectacular last-lap battle for the win had formed. But Sexton got held up by Cade Clason, and then also got confused with the race flags, thinking the race was over before it was. That made it easy for Tomac to make a pass, and then Sexton thought the race was over, so he rolled jumps instead of trying a retaliation attack.
“It was a really good race for me, everything went well,” said Sexton, who took second. “Obviously Aaron went down, unfortunately for him. I was just putting in solid laps. I couldn’t tell if it was Eli [Tomac] or Jason Anderson behind me because they were wearing similar gear. I was really struggling in the first set of whoops, that was costing me a lot of time. I was good on one half of the track but Eli was catching me at the front. Then Eli really dropped the hammer and sucked up right to my rear wheel. I feel like I had a decent amount of energy left, and I feel like I was riding really well. With Cade [Clason], I tried to jump inside of him really quick because I knew Eli was right there, and the next corner you’re pretty vulnerable to getting block passed. I wanted to get through those two corners pretty quick. Actually, the lap before that, my mechanic Jade put on the board 'two laps to go.' I thought I saw the white flag, so then I thought the race was over! Then I saw Eli keep going, and I was like 'Uh oh.' I saw Eli jump the next jump and I rolled it. So, it wasn’t the best ending, but it’s still my first 450 podium. Looking forward to Tuesday and trying to keep this train going.”
Tomac was a distant fourth at one point and had to work his way past Webb, the downed Plessinger, and Sexton to net the win.
“Aaron was pretty far out and I was pretty nervous, I didn’t know if we were going to end up catching him,” said Tomac. “Once he went down there was a little extra hope. I feel like I was getting better as the race went on. I found a better line in the whoops. That gave me the hope to push to the end. I was happy with everything, motorcycle-wise, and it turned out to be one hell of a track at the end.”
Webb took third, good in a way because his main title rival, Ken Roczen, struggled throughout and took ninth. But Webb wasn’t happy with his own riding.
“I wasn’t pumped with that ride," Webb said. "I got a good start like I needed and was put in a really good situation. Plessinger was riding really well out front and he had that mistake so I got into the lead but I just didn’t execute. Guys got around me and pulled away, definitely not the best race for me but to able to leave on the podium is a huge relief, and to gain points is always good on your bad days.”
Jason Anderson was, as he would say, “ripping” through the day, topping the lap charts in the sole practice session, and then winning his heat race. His start in the main was so-so, so he never mixed it up with the Tomac/Sexton/Plessinger/Webb front pack. He was the best of the rest, though, outlasting a big battle with about six other riders to net fourth. Apparently, he did it despite a shift lever problem.
“Atlanta one was a good day for the most part,” Anderson said in a Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team statement. “I qualified P1 in practice and went into the heat race and got first. In the main event, I got a little tangled up in the first corner and ripped my shifter off but I was able to get into third, manage my race and still get fourth so it was pretty good.”
Dylan Ferrandis. Wow. It was yet another “Great Ferrandis ride you won’t see on TV.” The Monster Energy/Star Racing Yamaha rookie got caught up in the first turn, completed lap one in 15th, circulated in tenth for a while, and then logged an amazing charge late in the race to pass Roczen, Joey Savatgy, Marvin Musquin, Malcolm Stewart, and Plessinger to take fifth. His mastery of the very difficult whoop section was a key to his charge.
Plessinger was sixth after riding so brilliantly early. Musquin was seventh
“It’s good to be back racing but it was crazy to only get one practice considering you have to learn the track and go straight to qualifying,” said Musquin. “The laps were super long and the practice was super short so I only got one really good lap and then I made a mistake and it cost me big time. Racing was completely different – it was tough conditions but the track turned around and shaped up really well for the main and I ended up seventh. Considering the whole day, I’m not happy with the result but I’m trying to be more consistent and just rebuild from some of the problems I’ve run into this season.”
Savatgy had a good start and a solid run on his Rocky Mountain ATV/MC WPS KTM. Then came Roczen, who started terribly, got to about ninth, and couldn’t close the gap to the pack in front of him. He made a move when Malcolm Stewart started to struggle, but then Ferrandis got around him to push him back to ninth. The sub-par ride puts Roczen 22 points behind Webb.
Justin Barcia had an eventful day, crashing huge while leading his heat race. He had to get stitches but came back to tough out the main event. From about last off the start, he climbed to tenth.
“It was a tough day for sure,” said Barcia. “I felt good at the start of the heat race but unfortunately, I had a crash early on that roughed me up pretty good. Luckily, I was able to salvage a qualifying position and get my lip all stitched up before the main but I was definitely feeling the effects from the crash all night. We’ll try to use the next couple days to recover and get back at it on Tuesday.”
|1||Eli Tomac||12 Laps||1:40.285||Cortez, CO||Kawasaki KX450|
|2||Chase Sexton||+06.669||1:40.577||La Moille, IL||Honda CRF450R|
|3||Cooper Webb||+16.864||1:41.282||Newport, NC||KTM 450 SX-F|
|4||Jason Anderson||+22.043||1:41.711||Edgewood, NM||Husqvarna FC 450|
|5||Dylan Ferrandis||+23.883||1:41.048||Avignon||Yamaha YZ450F|
If Tomac’s win was what folks expected coming into this race, well, the 250 class was the exact opposite. Few would have predicted rookie Nate Thrasher was on the verge of a race win considering ninth was his best result of the season thus far. Further, he was down early in his heat race and missed qualifying, taking tenth and going to the Last Chance Qualifier. Yet, he also logged the fastest lap of his heat on the last lap, during his last-ditch effort to get to ninth place. That seemed to be a sign. He won the LCQ with ease, took the early lead in the main event despite a bad gate pick, and then sailed to a dominant win, almost 12 seconds ahead of the pack. Make that four first-time winners in 250SX West.
"The track is so technical. It’s tough out there. I got a great start, went to the LCQ, but I knew I had the speed tonight," said Thrasher. "Track was technical and I’m good at that stuff. Feels amazing! I just want to take it in tonight and come back on Tuesday. I’ve got a lot of friends and family here, I’m from Tennessee so this is about the closest I have to a home race. I want to thank them, I could hear them the whole race. I didn’t even know for sure if I was going to race supercross this year, but we just kept building and we knew it was coming."
The 250SX West Championship has boiled down to Justin Cooper versus Cameron McAdoo versus Hunter Lawrence. All three had their troubles throughout the day, Cooper persevered and took second in the main, edging McAdoo who was third. Cooper crashed hard on the first lap of his heat race and was feeling the impact in the main.
“Just try to recover for Tuesday," said Cooper. "I got wheelspin in the heat race and I knew I was going down immediately. Hurt my back and shoulder and I couldn’t get my breath out there. To be on the podium is amazing. I knew it was going to be hard after the heat, I started to tighten up, but luckily the adrenaline took over. Happy to salvage some points. I’ve just got to recover for Tuesday. I’m definitely beat up after that heat race crash.”
McAdoo, of Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki, had some wild rides with crashes in his heat and the main. He was ahead of Cooper at one point but crashed trying to take second place away from Garrett Marchbanks. He recovered for third.
"It was important to salvage those points," said McAdoo after a mistake-filled night. "In the heat race I wasn’t patient enough and went down. In the main event I got a great start but I messed up a rhythm, Thrasher got me and I almost landed on his back wheel. Then someone [Marchbanks] cut inside and decided we just weren’t going to jump the double before the finish. In the whoops, I wasn’t patient enough again and went off the track, and there’s no saving it once you’re off the track there [on the concrete]."
Marchbanks, on the ClubMX Yamaha, was second and keeping Thrasher honest but then crashed and finished a disappointing 14th.
Lawrence, of Honda HRC, was looking comfortable in the muddy conditions early, winning his heat race. His main event went up in smoke, however, when he got tagged by Cooper in the first turn and went down. From last, he fought back to seventh.
“Not ideal, but it was out of my control being hit from behind in the first turn,” said Lawrence to our Steve Matthes. “You don’t look backwards going into the first turn. I was in a good position after winning the heat race. Not how we wanted it to go, but my intentions are clear for Tuesday. Gotta get those points back that we lost and maybe those guys will lose some.”
|1||Nate Thrasher||9 Laps||1:44.070||Livingston, TN||Yamaha YZ250F|
|2||Justin Cooper||+11.677||1:44.512||Cold Spring Harbor, NY||Yamaha YZ250F|
|3||Cameron McAdoo||+28.108||1:45.934||Sioux City, IA||Kawasaki KX250|
|4||Seth Hammaker||+29.961||1:47.588||Bainbridge, PA||Kawasaki KX250|
|5||Kyle Peters||+43.883||1:48.078||Greensboro, NC||Honda CRF250R|