Well, forget about Tampa. Eli Tomac knew he’d be facing questions after a sub-par ride last weekend in Monster Energy AMA Supercross that nearly cost him the series points lead, but he was okay with those questions. He was even questioning himself after finishing fifth last week!
“I just expect them [questions], if I have one of those races,” he said. “I don’t know. I was questioning myself just as much as everyone else was to me. So all I could say is that I was not feeling it on that track.”
He provided a much better answer, and quickly, in Oakland, via his riding. It came in his heat race, when Tomac started behind several of the other best riders of 2023, in Aaron Plessinger, Chase Sexton, and Cooper Webb. In the vicious double-set of Oakland whoops, and through a challenging dragon’s back, Tomac blew past them all, even executing an incredible double pass on Webb and Sexton in the same section! Yeah, he was okay.
“I didn’t even have that speed in practice in the whoops,” he said. “Was real strong in that heat. I knew I would be better this week, with this track.”
The heat indicated this would be a good night, but Tomac better than to take anything for granted. After all, this is the rider who has been avoiding questions about his place in the sport all-time. He wants to keep the focus on the task at hand. Early this season, he’s been creeping up on Ricky Carmichael’s third all-time mark of supercross wins. He said he didn’t want to talk about that until he got there. In Oakland, he did, but not before a grueling main event with Sexton and Webb to get it done. With win number 48, he tied Carmichael in history, and closed within two of tying James Stewart for second all-time. He doesn’t want much of that convo.
“Yeah, it’s special. Anytime you can tie RC on anything it’s really good,” Tomac said. “I’m just thankful for the success I’ve had in my 450 career, and the whole Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha team for making that possible, and giving me the chance to do it. Looking back now, whatever it was, ten years ago when I started in the 450 Class, did I think I’d be here? I would say no, but anyway… I don’t know where I’m going with this. It’s cool to be here with number 48.”
With his win in Oakland, @EliTomac now ties @RickyCarmichael on the all time wins list 📋— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) February 19, 2023
Monster Energy 450 Main Event LIVE fueled by Chevron Extra Mile#SupercrossLIVE #SuperMotocross pic.twitter.com/Y1KmcM9f3n
What about catching Stewart?
“We’ll just see if I get there,” he said. “Don’t want to talk about being there if I’m not there.”
Tomac only battles Stewart and Carmichael in the record books. On the track, he must top Webb and Sexton, and the trio is pushing each other to their limits. The Oakland track was much different by the time the main rolled around, and Tomac no longer had that huge edge in the whoops. Sexton, meanwhile, had his customary speed. The Honda man got out front and started to slowly pull away. Eli was there, but trying to figure out how to match that pace, without risk.
“I thought I was kind of maintaining at the beginning, then he [Sexton] started pulling away,” Tomac said afterward. “I went to the jump [line in the whoops] and he pulled away even more. I did that for five or six laps, then I got it on the pit board and I went back to skimming. That was just the better line for me. That being said, I think I had more of an advantage in the heat race with the skim. They just got really chewed up in the main, as usual. Jumping saved some energy for that late-race push.”
The Oakland track was gnarly. The layout was fun and challenging for the riders when it was fresh, because the dirt provides good traction and the obstacles were steep and technical. The whoops and dragon’s back were tough. Before it all broke down, it was good, but Tomac knows races come down to when the track is at its worst. He was skeptical of building such a tough track with such soft dirt.
“I thought it was really steep, Oakland notoriously has soft dirt, so I was surprised to see it,” said Tomac. “The one rhythm before the finish, guys weren’t even going three after the three-on-off into the next three, because the transitions were so tough with the soft dirt. Then they even laid down a bunch of water before the heat race, made the track even softer. I don’t know…pretty interesting to see them go with a steep build on dirt that’s going to be soft.”
Sexton continued to churn away up front, past the 15-minute mark of the race. Had Sexton held on, he would have taken Tomac’s red plate away, and Eli was fully aware. The was no settling in or accepting second. He had to get this win.
“Yeah, it’s like whoever wins this race takes the red plate. So it’s definitely crunch time,” Tomac said.
Then, as has happened all-too often this year, Sexton threw it away. He went flying, and Tomac sailed past. It’s not the first time Sexton has done this, but Tomac didn’t use this opportunity to take a shot at his competition. He chalked it up to a challenging, track, not a weakness in Sexton.
Oakland - 450SX Main EventFebruary 18, 2023
|1||Eli Tomac||21:28.917||19 Laps||1:06.189||Cortez, CO||Yamaha YZ450F|
|2||Cooper Webb||21:29.798||+.881||1:07.228||Newport, NC||KTM 450 SX-F|
|3||Chase Sexton||21:42.168||+13.251||1:06.058||La Moille, IL||Honda CRF450R|
|4||Aaron Plessinger||21:46.053||+17.136||1:07.323||Hamilton, OH||KTM 450 SX-F|
|5||Jason Anderson||21:50.747||+21.830||1:07.838||Edgewood, NM||Kawasaki KX450SR|
“I just thought it could happen to any of us. From the beginning of the day,” Tomac said. “From the way the dirt is and how steep and technical the build was. Anyone can make a mistake, you just don’t know who it will be.”
That’s true. With the race win seemingly in hand, Tomac bobbled himself on the very last lap, finding himself off the track and into the tough blocks.
“Yeah, that turn was tough,” he said. “The lap before I almost crashed in basically that same area, just tucked the front end and got spat off to the side. I had a decent gap and I thought I was all good, but then it wasn’t all good, and then Cooper was right on me.”
At the same time, Webb was putting it together, with another of his patented last-lap charges. He got Tomac in sight, but it wasn’t enough. Tomac had more speed than Webb in the middle of the race, and avoided the big crash like Sexton. It was a tense affair, but Tomac emerged with the win.
“I needed that rebound,” Tomac said. “I just didn’t ride like myself at all last weekend. To go out and execute [tonight], that was a good one.
“We’re setting ourselves up to be the three guys in this title chase,” said Tomac. “Yeah, it’s gonna be a barn burner.”