Common Tread

2018 Supercross preview: Let the chaos begin

Jan 02, 2018

I predict chaos in 2018.

I could eat my words, but I’ll remind you that I accurately called the Monster Energy Supercross champion in both 2016 and 2017. Last year, I even explained precisely why Ken Roczen wouldn’t be the champion.

I stop short of lauding myself, however. Predicting Ryan Dungey to win was as easy as saying it’ll be sunny in San Diego. The guy ended his career with 52 consecutive top-four finishes. Think about that: For over three full seasons, he never finished worse than fourth place. That’s the opposite of chaos.

Dismal nights: 450SX class
Rider Starts Finishes
worse
than 10th
Percentage
Jason Anderson 49 4 8 percent
Eli Tomac 64 9 14 percent
Ken Roczen 47 7 15 percent
Marvin Musquin 33 7 21 percent
Ryan Dungey (retired) 133 2 1.5 percent

That kind of consistency isn’t normal. Dungey competed in 133 main events and finished outside the top 10 only twice. Both were DNFs, one of them due to a thrown chain. Dungey finished in the top five in 91 percent of his main events. No other rider in the history of the sport can match that. (Ricky Carmichael was 85 percent. He also had 53 consecutive top-four finishes between 2002-2006 until a mechanical ended his streak.)

But Dungey is retired and after his eight seasons of order and regularity, I predict more chaos and disarray in 2018. The four other riders who won races in 2017, Eli Tomac (nine wins), Ken Roczen (two), Marvin Musquin (two) and Jason Anderson (one), all had at least one finish of 15th or worse during the season. It’s completely reasonable (and normal) to think they’re all going to have at least one finish outside the top 10 in 2018.

The point I’m making is that we can now expect to resume normal programming in Supercross results and this unpredictability made writing this a little more fun. As we head into the 45th season of AMA Monster Energy Supercross, let’s look at the four returning riders who won main events last year: the social siren, the silent one, the racer and the hipster.

Ken Roczen: The social siren

Out of sight for over 11 months, Ken Roczen made sure he was never out of mind. With more than one million followers on Instagram, Roczen is the story people can’t get enough of. And rightfully so. The fact that the guy’s left arm is still attached to his body is a miracle of modern science. After 11 surgeries following his brutal crash at Anaheim last year (see video below), Roczen’s positive attitude and outlook toward coming back and winning never once wavered. Yet he understands reality. At Honda’s team press intro in early December, he did admit that his arm will never be the same, there is still soreness and he’s had to make adjustments to his riding style.

While he’s shaping up to be the poster boy of athletic comebacks, Roczen has also allowed himself to be sucked into the vortex of doubters, haters and skeptics. On December 1, he went on a tirade that clearly showed he can’t ignore what’s being said. Instead of taking the high road and waiting until the gate drops to let his racing acumen speak for itself, he went on an awkward rant (with a photo that had nothing to do with the words) and came across as an insurance salesman trying to unload bad whole life policies. He earned as many quizzical comments in return as he did “Well said!” responses.

Watching Roczen practice, it’s evident that his speed has returned (or maybe it never left) but the fact that he hasn’t raced in 50 weeks can’t be ignored. Roczen’s inexplicable crashes have derailed his championship hopes each of his four 450SX seasons. If his injury takes away 5 percent of his edge, that might actually work in his favor. He is no doubt going to make one of the greatest sports comebacks of all time in 2018, just by lining up for the first main event of the season.

Eli Tomac
Eli Tomac is many prognosticators' favorite, but will he get another slow start to the season? Kawasaki photo.

Eli Tomac: The silent one

If anyone has seen Eli Tomac, please remind him that there’s a race Saturday night. Tomac never has much to say anyway and with a little more than half of Roczen’s Instagram following, there’s a good chance the only reason he signed up for an account was because it’s typically now a contractual obligation to feed a social media channel. (Eli: you know you can pay people to do that for you.) Between mid-October and mid-December, Tomac made five posts and even those felt contrived. Roczen posted 55 times in that same span.

Tomac’s robotic indifference and self-seclusion makes it seem like he’s having absolutely no fun. Does it work? He has yet to start a season where he gives the impression that he arrived more prepared than his peers. In his first 450SX season (2015), he finished 20th at the opener (but won round two). In 2016 he didn’t get a top three until round nine (a win). In 2017, he went 5-6-8-1 in the first four rounds. Nobody can win the title at the opening round but Tomac’s slow starts have cost him in the end.

A lot of stock is being put on the fact that Tomac won nine races in 2017. He was unquestionably the best on so many nights, yet at other rounds there was confusion as to who was riding the green number three machine.

KTM Red Bull Supercross team
Now that Ryan Dungey (left) is retired, Marvin Musqin (center) leads the Red Bull KTM team and is joined by Broc Tickle (right). KTM photo by Simon Cudby.

Marvin Musquin: The racer

It appears that Marvin Musquin isn’t aware the season ended. From mid-October through early December, the Frenchman was busy. He competed in four events and won all of them, including the Monster Energy Cup, where he scored $1 million for sweeping the three main events. He was also the Red Bull Straight Rhythm winner and won the King of Paris and King of Geneva crowns.

It infuriated Roczen when fans and media talked about how well Musquin has been riding and how much momentum he would have going into 2018. Roczen is right. Winning a few post-season races against a handful (rather than a gate full) of top racers doesn’t mean you’re a title lock. Momentum builds confidence, however, and confidence builds champions.

Musquin will be 28 when the season starts but it’s only his third season in the 450SX class. After only five top-five finishes in 2016, Musquin had 12 in 2017 (and two — should have been three — wins). Only once since the inception of the 250SX East/West championship in 1985 has a rider won his first 450SX title after trying more than three times. Roczen and Tomac will begin their fifth title attempts in 2018, Anderson his fourth.

Should Musquin pull it off at the end of the year, he’d become the oldest first-time champion and get dangerously close to a record Jeremy McGrath has held since 2000: oldest overall champion. KTM is certainly expecting this from their new number-one rider and so is Aldon Baker, the renowned trainer whose riders have won every championship since 2010 and 13 of 17 since 2001.

Jason Anderson: The hipster

There’s a chance that Jason Anderson doesn’t want to be understood but it seems to be working just fine for him. Surrounded by a cooler than cool aura and a jersey perpetually untucked, his persona oozes the vulgar saying “no f---s given.” It appears the guy even travels with a videography crew, and he releases moments of his life in 30-second bursts. They rarely make sense but that’s most likely not the point. He’s clearly speaking to his audience and they’re enjoying it.

Anderson is a consistent rider but he’s not consistently on the podium. In 2017, he retaliated off the track against Vince Friese (see the video above) over a qualifying incident and was disqualified for the night. That move ended up costing him a chance at third overall in the series (and no doubt a top-three bonus payout). For a shot at this title, Anderson needs to be on the podium more than the six times he appeared there in both 2016 and 2017. Tomac and Musquin were on the podium 12 and 10 times respectively in 2017. Roczen was on the podium 11 times in 2016, the most recent full season he’s completed. And they all fell short of Dungey, who was on the podium 13 times in 2017 and 16 times in 2016.

Cooper Webb
Can Cooper Webb break through in his second season in 450SX? Yamaha photo.

The rest of the field and my pick for 2018 Supercross champ

Yes, there are many, many other riders to talk about but fewer than five riders on average historically have won races in a season (going back to 1974). It’s best to leave the field banter to the outlets that cover the sport exclusively.

If I were to pick a fifth winner for the season I’d say Cooper Webb, the former two-time 250SX champion who is starting his second season and will be riding the all-new 2018 Yamaha YZ450F. Blake Baggett will also be impressive and there’s the always enigmatic Justin Barcia, who is filling in at Yamaha for the injured Davi Millsaps.

Marvin Musquin podium
Our motocross correspondent predicts Marvin Musquin will keep cashing checks in 2018. KTM photo.

So, who’s my pick for the 2018 450SX champion? Marvin Musquin. I believe he’s the most mature and consistent rider. I don’t think he’ll win the most races but I believe the damage on his worst nights will be the most limited.