What is it about strange times that produces good motorcycle racing?
In case you haven't been following, the 2021 Monster Energy AMA Supercross series, which is also the FIM world championship, has started off with unusual levels of parity — along with unusual numbers of spectators in the stadiums and a very unusual schedule lacking some of the most traditional venues. Reminiscent of the 2020 MotoGP season, which saw a record number of first-time winners and a very unexpected champion, the 450SX class has been notable for its parity.
After the first three races in Houston, the top eight riders in the 450 class were separated by just 10 points. The nine podium spots in those three races were filled by eight different riders, with only Team Honda HRC rider Ken Roczen repeating on the podium. The 250 East class was not quite as even, but still, after three races, Star Racing Yamaha teammates Colt Nichols and Christian Craig were tied for the points lead.
As the series moved to Indianapolis for its second series of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday races in the same venue, the question was whether someone — or a few someones — could emerge from that pack and become the contenders to watch.
The picture begins to come into focus
If Houston put the 450 Supercross field through a blender, Indianapolis may be where the cream starts rising to the top. That would not be unusual. It's often not until several races into the Supercross season that the real contenders become clear, as some riders flame out due to injury or a disastrous race that sets them back in the points standings. As SX stats nerd Clinton Fowler has pointed out, not having a bad day was the key that distinguished the 2020 Supercross champions. By that he means that when things go wrong, such as a first-lap crash, the rider gets back up and salvages good points, and when things go right, such as a good start, the rider holds that position through the race. (If you want a regular dose of interesting Supercross stats, just follow Fowler on social media @3lapsdown.)
On Saturday night, the cream rose at Indianapolis in the form of Roczen and defending champion Eli Tomac fighting for the win, with Roczen ultimately prevailing despite a late-race error that sent him off the track and briefly out of the lead. Roczen went into Indianapolis with the red number plate for the points lead despite not winning in Houston and despite being penalized four points, along with three other riders, for jumping through a section where a red cross flag was being displayed while an injured rider was attended to. Roczen has also had to come back from serious injury and viral infections (not COVID-related) more than once.
Roczen's relative consistency has put him atop the points, followed by 2019 450SX champion Cooper Webb and then Tomac. So champions are rising, but it still looks like the kind of year where any of a half a dozen riders could win the 450 main on a given night.
And just to back that up, here's one more stat from @3lapsdown: This year is just the third time in Supercross history that four different riders have won the first four races in the premier class. Race five is tonight in Indianapolis and streamed live on Peacock and shown delayed on NBCSN.
|Monster Energy AMA Supercross 450 points standings|
|Ken Roczen||Honda||1 win||86 points|