It’s a rare occurrence in a Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship where five rounds into the championship, the only rider with multiple wins on the season is not the points leader. But that’s exactly what we had rolling into the sixth round of the series on Saturday night inside Glendale, Arizona’s State Farm Stadium. Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence was fresh off his second win of the season in Detroit the weekend prior but did not possess the red plate as the points leader. Instead, defending champion Chase Sexton saw the plates turn back to red aboard his Red Bull KTM leaving Detroit with a solid second place finish. Due to the ever-changing results week after week through six rounds, the points truly had never been closer among the top six riders in the series through the first five rounds of racing in the history of the sport. Sexton sat just one point up on Lawrence, two points up on Aaron Plessinger, six points up on Cooper Webb, 14 points ahead of Jason Anderson, and 16 markers above Eli Tomac. But the craziness didn’t end there, because when the checkered flag waved in Glendale, none of these riders would cross the finish line first.
Before racing even began in the desert, it was revealed that Sexton had actually crashed practicing during the week and was nursing a hand/arm injury. Nothing was broken, but Sexton was certainly no longer at 100% physically and this round would be huge to do some damage control before a critical weekend off in the series the following weekend. If ever there were a time for Jett Lawrence to make a statement and make this series his, the time was now.
Lawrence and Jason Anderson spent most of qualifying having a bit of a tennis match with the top qualifying honors, which eventually went to Anderson. It also seemed clear that Eli Tomac was working back towards a normal trend this week after a disappointing 10th place finish in Detroit left he and the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team a bit puzzled. Team manager Jeremy Coker mentioned this week that the bike setting was off in Detroit and Tomac dealt with some arm pump issues. The conditions in Glendale were much more similar to that of Anaheim 2 where Tomac took a dominating third race victory as part of the Triple Crown format that night.
When the main event finally rolled around, it was time to see who was ready to take one more shot across the bow heading into the break. Progressive Ecstar Suzuki’s Ken Roczen fired out of the gates and controlled the field all the way through the first corner to grab the holeshot. Roczen’s 2024 has been a mix of highs and lows with podium finishes at San Francisco and Detroit, but frustrating results at Anaheim 1 and San Diego mixed in. He looked like a man who was taking all his early frustrations of the season out on the Glendale track as he hammered out some impressive opening laps to open a small gap on the field.
As things were settling in, Plessinger suddenly crashed from second place when he lost the front end of his Red Bull KTM coming into a bowl berm. The loss of Plessinger from second vaulted Roczen’s lead out to about four seconds over Jason Anderson. Eli Tomac found his way into third place early on and was working on sticking with the lead duo while chaos ensued behind them. Vince Friese was holding up the train of riders a bit before Cooper Webb punted him out of the way and let the flood gates open. Webb slipped into fourth and brought with him Jett Lawrence, Hunter Lawrence, Chase Sexton, and Dylan Ferrandis. Jett Lawrence spent a few laps behind Webb before he was able to make the move into fourth and actually gap the group a bit. Sexton’s struggles with his battered body seemed to settle in as the race moved on with Hunter Lawrence, Dylan Ferrandis, Cooper Webb, and then Malcolm Stewart all getting by him to push him back to a ninth-place finish. He would only end up finishing about six seconds ahead of teammate Aaron Plessinger who had watched the whole field go by when he crashed early in the race.
Back to the lead battle and it was really down to whether Anderson could reel in Roczen ahead of him. There were a few points in the middle of the race where Anderson strung together a few laps that took the gap down to about three seconds, but that’s ultimately the closest it got. Roczen simply rode flawless for 20 minutes to lead all 20 laps of the main event and light the candles for his first win of 2024. After the early frustrations for Roczen, who arguably has been the fastest rider to start the year, this win looked like a massive weight lifted off his shoulders.
“I felt like a fish out of water all day,” Roczen said of the slick Glendale conditions. “Compared to how I felt in Detroit, I’m actually surprised tonight went the way it did. But I did grow up racing on dirt like this. Jett would know what my dad’s track is like. It’s been a long time though, but maybe some things are burned into your brain a little bit.”
Anderson was left to settle for second on the night when he clearly had the speed to win but just didn’t have the start to be right with Roczen from the green flag. Anderson, along with Tomac, are now truly the best riders without wins in 2024 and there’s reason to believe both could get a win as soon as the next round. Anderson seemed destined to win the Anaheim 2 Triple Crown before his untimely crash in the final race of the night left him off the top step. But Glendale was another sign that the 2022 version of Jason Anderson looks to be back on form aboard his Kawasaki.
“For a second there, I felt like I was closing in on Kenny,” said Anderson. “But I just, that rhythm section that I was trying to do that [different line], I felt like I was gaining a little bit of time. I just missed it one of the times. I actually blitzed the whole rhythm section. So, I think I was just trying to do that and make up time, but the line wasn't consistent and Kenny was hitting his marks and being smooth as usual.”
The best battle on the track in the closing stages of the race was that of Eli Tomac and the hard charging Jett Lawrence for the final podium spot. Tomac was doing well to match pace with Anderson ahead of him, but Lawrence just kept closing the gap down. With about five minutes to go in the race, Lawrence snuck down the inside heading into the first rhythm section and made the pass into third place. Lawrence was definitely the fastest rider on the track in the second half of the race, but like Anderson, the start really defined his night as he spent the entire race picking guys off to get onto the podium. Thanks to his strong push forward, he also retook the points lead by six points over Sexton.
“I think a big thing that kind of just helped was how the track conditions were,” said Lawrence of his late charge. “It was kind of—you just had to kind of be patient and kind of not push anything. I know in my head, I was just a lot calmer in this situation, you know, like I'm not the fastest on this type of condition. So just kind of take it how it is, just find a way around this person, and just kind of try and go to the next.”
Tomac would hold on for fourth in a valiant turnaround ride from his Detroit woes where he was lapped. When the checkered flag waved, Tomac was just 14 seconds back of the lead and certainly can use this week as a building block back towards the right direction. Due to the chaotic nature of the 450SX class so far, he’s still only 17 points down after six rounds, but amazingly, he’s also seventh in points!
Hunter Lawrence rounded out the top five in what was the first top five result of his 450SX career. It seems Hunter is getting slowly better week after week as he adapts to the 450SX class and he even mentioned afterwards how challenging it’s been to get used to the intensity the 450 guys have early in the main event. This week though, he hung tight with the lead group and certainly looked like he belonged at the front.
Now the 450SX class gets their first break of 2024 as a weekend off before the Arlington Supercross lays ahead. Seventeen points separate seven riders with 11 rounds to go and now there have been five different winners through six rounds. Will we settle into a normal trend with this class soon? Time will tell.
The 250SX West Region was back in action this weekend in Glendale after they had a weekend off to allow the 250SX East Region Championship to kick off in Detroit. Levi Kitchen and Jordon Smith entered tied in points with each of them collecting one win to start the season. And similarly to the 450SX class, the West boys had seen four different winners through four rounds to start their championship. Would Glendale be the spot to see the first repeat winner of 2024?
Things started off a bit on the rough side when heat racing action began as San Diego winner Nate Thrasher went for a violent tumble while leading 250SX Heat 2. The race would have to be red flagged to allow the medics to get Thrasher off the track and onto a medical mule. He would leave the track sitting up, but visibly in pain with his legs. He was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation, but there is no update on his condition at this time.
The heat races were ultimately won by the points leaders Kitchen and Smith, setting us up for a wild west showdown between the two red plate holders in the desert. As the main event kicked off, that’s exactly what we got as Kitchen led early with Smith right on his rear fender. At the end of the second lap, Smith made his move down the inside after the finish line jump to take the lead. Kitchen was setting up a pass back into the next corner when Smith nearly jumped off the track and handed the lead right back over. Smith then got Kitchen for the lead again a lap later in the exact spot he passed him for the lead the lap prior. All the while, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s RJ Hampshire was sitting right behind them both waiting to pounce. When Kitchen looked a bit vulnerable after Smith passed him a second time, Hampshire wasted no time to jump inside and move into second place.
Smith led for another two laps before he washed his front wheel on the start straight in the tricky left-handed sweeper. He picked it back up in a battle with Kitchen for what was now second place as Hampshire had taken over the lead. Ryder DiFrancesco then had a huge crash in a rhythm section and would need to be helped off the track. While the lights were flashing and yellow flags were waving, Kitchen sort of checked up to jump onto the tabletop in the rhythm section that DiFrancesco was down, and Smith jumped right alongside Kitchen to the point that they hit when Smith landed. Smith jumped off the track to the left and went down again, pushing him back to sixth place this time.
While all the chaos was ensuing behind him, Hampshire was just putting his head down at the front of the pack and clicking off laps. Kitchen was able to keep him honest the whole way, but Hampshire was never really bothered by the pressure from behind as he held the gap around four seconds all the way home. The checkered flag waved, and Anaheim 1 winner RJ Hampshire became the first two-time winner in 250SX West for 2024.
“I got a decent start in right behind those two right off the bat,” said Hampshire. “I just ended up finding myself in the lead pretty quick and then I heard the crowd go crazy. The gap was about five or six seconds from there. I was able to manage it, which I'm stoked. I'm able to do that right now. It was just a solid end to a tough day.”
Kitchen was left to settle with second place on the night, but the silver lining is he gained sole possession of the points lead with his fourth podium finish of the year. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider now sits four points up on Smith and five points up on Hampshire as the three riders are now breaking away from the rest of the pack a bit. Heading into this long break for the 250SX West boys, holding the red plate all to himself is a massive boost of confidence for the #47.
“Early on those guys just had better pace than me for sure,” said Kitchen. “I just need to have better intensity at the beginning, you know. After halfway, I'm always pretty good, but also just getting used to being out front. I'm not super comfortable out front with people super close behind me. So, I just need to work on getting the starts like that, but then being able to get away a little bit. That's probably what I'll focus on during the break.”
Rounding out the podium and getting onto the box for the first time in 2024 was Honda HRC’s Jo Shimoda. It’s no secret this year has not gone according to plan for Shimoda who has lamented that bad starts are really getting to him mentally. A slightly better start tonight coming across the line in seventh at the end of the first lap helped Shimoda get to a spot where he benefitted from Smith’s second crash to land on the box. He also only finished six seconds down from Hampshire at the flag, showing the speed is absolutely no question.
“I’m just trying to get starts,” said Shimoda. “That's like the biggest thing I'm missing on right now. And even in that main event, I still got third but not the greatest starts and it kind of got gifted from that situation. So, I still need to improve on that area and just kind of want to, you know, fight in the front.”
Smith would cross the line in fourth and watch the points lead slip away from him for the first time in almost a month. But he did well to salvage what could have been a lot worse after two crashes. He even made a nice double pass at one point on Mitchell Oldenburg and Julien Beaumer to get back into fourth place. He is firmly in this title fight as just four rounds remain in the championship.
Rounding out the top five was Garrett Marchbanks who now sits a bit of a distant fourth in the championship, 19 points down. Marchbanks’ kryptonite in Glendale was starts as the long start straight didn’t benefit the tall Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX Yamaha man. It’s been a great season for Marchbanks, but he was clearly bummed post-race that the night didn’t go better overall.
Now the 250SX West class has a lengthy month and a half break until racing resumes for their series in Seattle on March 23rd. When we get to the Pacific Northwest by that point, local hero Levi Kitchen will certainly be a welcomed sight for Washingtonians to cheer on their home state guy with the points lead. Either way, the series as a whole now heads into a break as we gear up for the second stanza of 2024 coming up in two weeks’ time.
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