Wednesday, May 9, 2018

2018 Supercross Season Review

The 2018 Supercross season came to a close on Saturday night and we have a new champion after a 17-round season that saw favorites fall, some miss rounds due to injuries and a few surprises along the way.

In the early days of 2018, I wrote a preview for the season and gave a brief explanation of what to expect from nearly two-dozen riders. This review will look back at a handful of riders and how wrong those expectations were. We will start with the top of the championship and work our way down.

1. Jason Anderson - #21 Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Team Husqvarna FC450
Victories: 4 (Houston, Oakland, San Diego, Atlanta)
Podium Finishes: 11
What did I write: "Anderson is a consistent rider but a healthy Roczen makes it significantly more difficult for Anderson to be a championship contender. It would surprise nobody if he did win a race or two and if he keeps up his form a top five championship finish seems to be a given."
How wrong was it: It wasn't wrong but it didn't anticipate Ken Roczen getting hurt again, Marvin Musquin and Eli Tomac each missing a round early and Tomac continuing to find way to throw away races. Anderson didn't change his style to be champion. He made sure he got the bike home and let others faltered. The championship was his to lose before the halfway point of the season and he wasn't going to let go. After he won Atlanta Anderson pretty much knew if he kept finish third, fourth or fifth he would be champion and he did that. Daytona was an odd race and a broken wheel at Salt Lake City was his only hiccup all season and Salt Lake City wasn't on him. He didn't put a wheel wrong all season and it got him a championship.

2. Marvin Musquin - #25 Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
Victories: 4 (Anaheim 1, Indianapolis, Foxborough, Salt Lake City)
Podium Finishes: 12
What did I write: "The Frenchman is one of the top championship contenders. Musquin is ready to pick up where Dungey left off and he is entering on a great wave of momentum."
How wrong was it:  He was a championship contender the only problem was Anderson had enough points to burn by the time Musquin got on his championship run it was too late and on top of that he still couldn't beat Tomac on a regular basis. Musquin was lucky he had a shot at the title in the final race of the season but even in a do-or-die finale he still couldn't come out on top even when he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

3. Eli Tomac - #3 Monster Energy Kawasaki Kawasaki KX 450F
Victories: 8 (Anaheim 2, Glendale, Arlington, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Seattle, Minneapolis, Las Vegas)
Podium Finishes: 12
What did I write: "Like Musquin, Tomac is a championship contender. If it weren't for a few poor results at the start of 2017 he would have won the championship over Dungey. If he stays on the bike, he will be in the championship discussion until the end but it won't be easy."
How wrong was it: Pretty spot on. He didn't stay on the bike and winning nearly half the races couldn't even get him second in the championship. It has to turn around eventually. No one can be this successful over the last two seasons and have no Supercross title to show for it. It would be easy to dismiss his success as Anderson not having to push and Roczen being out but Musquin had everything to gain and Tomac bested him most of the time.

4. Blake Baggett - #4 Rocky Mountain ATV/MC – KTM – WPS #4 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
Victories: 0
Podium Finishes: 5
What did I write: "He did well in both championships and I think this could be the sleeper of the season. A win might be a stretch but he could have his night and he could challenge for top five in the championship."  
How wrong was it: I believe I had that. He ended on a strong note with two consecutive third-place finishes and three consecutive top five finishes. He is still a step below the likes of Anderson, Musquin, Tomac and Roczen but give him another year and he could be knocking on the door.

5. Justin Brayton - #10 MotoConcepts/Honda Honda CRF 450
Victories: 1 (Daytona)
Podium Finishes: 2
What did I write: "Despite being a regular Supercross competitor since 2010, he is still looking for his first career victory. It won't happen in 2018 and I think he will struggle to even get a top five finish."
How wrong was it: Very. I did not see this coming. I also did not see the top two factory Honda riders both getting hurt in the first half of the season. Brayton, one of the most experienced riders in the series, stepped up and carried the Honda banner. He got results when Honda needed it most and salvaged a respectable season considering everything that occurred. Not only did he get his first career victory and had two podium finishes but had six top five finishes. That is over third of the season. Sure, he benefitted from a handful of riders getting hurt, but he got the results and congratulations to him.

Other Riders
Chad Reed - #22 CR22 Husqvarna FC450
Championship Finish: 13th (159 points)
Best Result: 7th (Seattle)
What did I write: "Reed is the only previous Supercross champion on the grid. However, Reed is 35 years old and turns 36 years old prior to St. Louis. It has been ten years since he won his second championship and with him on a privateer bike I don't see a third in the cards. But I wouldn't rule him out to have a stunning night and pull out a top five finish or two."
How wrong was it: Reed's first season as a privateer rider was challenging and while it was somewhat tough to watch it was also encouraging. He never was competing for victories. He didn't really have a fight for a top five finish but the results got better as the year went along. It should be noted his results did improve as more riders got hurt. I don't think he has set himself up for top five finishes and podium finishes next year but if anyone could do it as a privateer rider it would be Chad Reed.

Christian Craig - #32 Team Honda HRC Honda CRF 450
Championship Finish: 16th (134 points)
Best Result: 4th (Daytona, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas)
What did I write: Nothing... he was not in the season preview because he was in the 250cc West series.  
How wrong was it: The factory Honda team had the season from hell. Its two rider were hurt before the halfway point of the season and Craig stepped up after six rounds in the 250cc West series and had an impressive nine-race run. He opened with a fifth place finish at Atlanta and a fourth place finish at Daytona. He hit a bit of a rough patch but ended the season with a pair of fourth place finishes.

Cole Seely - #14 Team Honda HRC Honda CRF 450
Championship Finish: 17th (124 points)
Best Result: 2nd (Anaheim 2)
What did I write: "We are pushing three years since Seely's maiden Supercross victory at Houston in April 2015. Seely has had seven podium since then. It will be hard for him to keep up with Roczen and I expect he will finish at a minimum five championship positions behind his teammate."
How wrong was it: While Ken Roczen's injury was a big blow for Honda, Seely's injury two weeks later was another punch to the gut and Seely was keeping up with his teammate. Through the first five races Seely had a podium finish, two top five finishes and four top ten finishes while Roczen had finished in the top five in all five races and had three podium finishes. Steely averaged 17.71 points per race prior to his injury.

Ken Roczen - #94 Team Honda HRC Honda CRF 450
Championship Finish: 18th (102 points)
Best Result: 2nd (Houston, Oakland)
What did I write: "If Roczen hadn't been injured he would have been in the championship discussion and very well could have beat both Dungey and Tomac. I think we are set for a great three-way battle between Roczen, Tomac and Musquin."
How wrong was it: It is hard to say it is wrong when an injury derailed this season. Roczen did not come in and picked up where he left off. He wasn't dominating races with the rest of the field chasing him but he was in a good place considering his lay off. Considering his form, he might have been a championship contender. Throw out his San Diego race where he scored two points after his accident, Roczen was averaging 20.2 points through the first five races. If he kept up that form he would have scored 343.4 points this season. It is a shame we lost Roczen for another season and after all these bumps you have to wonder if we are ever going to see his true potential.

This season lacked the weekly championship battle that we had between Ryan Dungey and Eli Tomac but it was still an interesting season.

There did feel like an abnormal number of injuries this season. I could be wrong or it could be more high profile riders were sidelined or it could be because injuries plagued the championship picture more than other years.

There were a handful of great races. Anderson and Roczen had a good battle at Houston. Glendale had another phenomenal race. Oakland had great main events in both the 450 class and the 250 class. Foxborough will be remembered for Musquin's move on Tomac but even before that the race was top notch.

I didn't think the Triple Crown races did much. I get the appeal of having three main events and getting the top riders on track more but I am not sure it made the racing better. It added a different element to a race where a rider could be fighting from behind and a win in the third main event might not make up for a fifth and fourth in the first two races. It isn't a bad thing to have a different format at a few rounds to spice it up and this was only one year. I think Triple Crown races should return for 2019.

Looking forward to 2019, I think Anderson could defend his title but if Tomac is going to win eight races again then Anderson is going to have to really step it up and be more aggressive. I don't think Anderson will be spotted a fistful of points by the likes of Tomac and Musquin for a second consecutive season. We don't know about Roczen but he will be back for the Motocross season. If he can survive the outdoor season without suffering an injury then that will be a big step in the right direction for him.

The Motocross season doesn't start for another ten days but it will be something worth keeping an eye on.