Words and Photos by Krystyn Slack
Round 4 of Monster Energy Supercross took us to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ – home of the Arizona Cardinals. The Arizona dirt paired with a large football stadium typically equates to plenty of hard pack and an incredibly technical track – quite the contrast from the Triple Crown track we saw in Anaheim last weekend. Between the format changes and point restructuring, Monster Energy Supercross has created a scenario that makes for much closer and more unpredictable racing – a guaranteed win for the fans in attendance and watching on TV. Four rounds in and we’ve seen three different winners and the Red Plates change hands each round in the 250SX class. In the 450SX class, two riders have donned the red plates, also with three separate winners. The competition is heating up nicely and it’s certainly been an exciting and surprising season thus far. Here’s a look at this week’s Fast Five, a collection of the most memorable and talked about moments from Round 4 of racing.
5. Joey Savatgy Pulls Main Event Holeshot after a Trip to the LCQ
Heading in to Arizona, Joey Savatgy was tied for the points lead with Shane McElrath. Joey’s night got off to a great start when he qualified with the fastest qualifying time, ready to defend the red plates. But unfortunately for the #17, his Heat Race was less than ideal. Savatgy got bucked in the whoops and ended up pulling out of the Heat to regroup for unfamiliar territory, the LCQ. It would be no surprise that he obliterated the competition in the LCQ, but that still meant that his gate pick for the Main Event would be less than ideal. He would pick a far outside gate, which many would deem crazy. But for the extremely fast Savatgy, it proved to be the best choice. The moment the gate dropped, the #17 machine rocketed himself from the far outside to the holeshot, a la RJ Hampshire during the US MXGP this September, escaping all carnage that would usually accompany such an audacious move. He had the speed to get to the front, but just missed hanging on for the Main Event and ended up finishing just off the podium in 4th. Although he has to give up the red plates heading into Oakland, he still sits 3rd in the Championship standings.
4. Chad Reed is in LCQ For Second Week in a Row
Chad Reed is a name not often (ever) paired with the phrase Last Chance Qualifier, but for an unprecedented second week in a row, the legend has had to earn his way to the Main Event via the dreaded LCQ. Talk about a fish out of water. Last year, Arizona was good to the Australian where he finished in 2nd place. This year, however, not so much. The cards have certainly not worked in favour of the two-time Supercross champion thus far this season, but he refuses to give up and is determined to prove that he still has more to give. Reed suffered a gnarly ankle injury in October that sidelined him right up until Anaheim 1. I’m guessing this is a pretty humbling experience for the former champion, but if I know anything about watching Chad Reed over the course of his professional racing career, it’s that he’s a fighter and this will only add fuel to his fire. He’s on course to smash through Mike LaRocco’s all time start record and is out to prove that he can also be the oldest winner in the premier class. It will be great to see his progress as he gets healthier throughout the season.
3. Justin Brayton Wins 450SX Heat Race
Justin Brayton, fresh off his second consecutive Australian Supercross Championship, has done a great job carrying that momentum and confidence into the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season. Brayton has been a consistent staple amongst the premier class for a good number of years now, but it’s been a minute since we’ve repeatedly seen his name near the top of the leader board. Justin Brayton qualified in 4th in Glendale, a mere 0.411 seconds off Jason Anderson’s top qualifying time. He claimed the top step during his Heat Race and finished 7th in the Main Event. As the momentum continues to build, I bet it won’t be long until we see the #10 machine back on the podium in a Main Event.
2. Aaron Plessinger Wins 2nd 250SX Main Event of 2018
We’ve touched on the fact that competition is stacked this season, so much so that the red plates have changed hands in the 250SX class during each of the four rounds of racing thus far. This is one of those seasons where there is no clear title contender, even four weeks in, and every rider needs to have a nearly perfect ride every week in order to even be considered competitive. In Glendale, the #23 of Aaron Plessinger got off to an unusually good start and the extremely technical track played heavily to his racing strengths. He battled fiercely with the #28 of Shane McElrath for a good portion of the Main Event, before passing him in an uncharacteristically aggressive move. We can chalk this move up to a “bad math” racing incident. Sure, Plessinger was eager to make the pass for the lead, but his calculations for how the pass was going to go down were just a tad off and almost sent Shane straight to the ground. AP would maintain the lead for the rest of the Main Event, landing him on the top step of the podium for the second time this season. This win nudges him just ahead of Shane McElrath and Joey Savatgy to be the sole points leader as we head into Oakland. After claiming the checkers, fans were once again treated to some spectacular dance moves that we’ve become accustomed to from the #23.
1. Ken Roczen and Justin Barcia Begin to Emerge as Title Contenders
In a plot twist that even the most esteemed analyst wouldn’t have predicted coming into the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season, we are starting to see both Justin Barcia and Ken Roczen emerge as title contenders. Prior to landing his fill-in role with the Monster Energy / Knich / Yamaha Factory Racing Team, it was uncertain if Justin Barcia was even going to be racing this year. But like so many things, one man’s misfortune is another’s goldmine. Davi Millsaps’ unfortunate injury is probably the best thing to happen to Justin Barcia in a long time. He’s building steam and consistency, and currently sits second in points. The other surprising contender (to most people) is Ken Roczen. If you’ve paid attention to any of the preparation he’s done for the season, then it shouldn’t be surprising at all where he sits in the standings. But for so many, they had written him off as ever being capable of being one of the “fast guys” again, let alone a real title contender. With his injury now completely behind him, it’s all forward progress from here on out for the #94. Being able to prove people wrong and silence the haters is great fuel in the motivation tank and dangerous for the rest of the field.
The story continues to unfold with each race and you don’t want to miss it. Join us this week as we head north to Oakland, CA for Round 5 of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship.