If the trend continues, the Monster Energy Supercross Championship will be decided at the final round in Las Vegas for the first time in six years. But that’s not what everyone’s talking about.
Points leader (and defending champion) Ryan Dungey is four points ahead of the seemingly unstoppable challenger, Eli Tomac, who has won five straight races, and the major topic in Supercross surrounds the guy who's struggling to make the top 10 in points.
In St. Louis on Saturday, Chad Reed, who is mathematically eliminated from winning the championship, pulled a Steve Bartman and inserted himself into the conversation. While Bartman’s quest to catch a fly ball at a Cubs game was more of an instant reaction, Reed’s move to pick up his pace and put Dungey on ice while being lapped in the main event was a calculated reaction. Reed isn’t the only former champion to get lapped and fail to get out of the way of the battle for the lead. Remember this?
Yes, it’s probably tough for riders like Reed and James Stewart, who have more than 90 wins and four titles between them, to accept the fact that they’re being lapped, but as the old racing adage goes, “If the blue flag is waving in front of you, there’s a race going on and you’re not in it.”
In brief, Reed was running 16th in the main event and didn’t make it easy (see the video above) for Dungey, who was running second and closing in on Tomac, to pass. Two days after the incident, Reed was fined $5,000 by the AMA and “docked five championship points” for a title chase he’s not in. After losing his points, he will drop to 10th in the standings. Race Director John Gallagher said he made his way to the Yamaha truck — getting chewed out in the tunnel by KTM’s Roger DeCoster along the way — within 20 minutes of the race ending and Reed had already left the stadium.
When asked why, after two and a half laps of blue flags being waved at Reed, he didn’t call for number 22 to get a black flag, Gallagher cautioned that it wasn’t such a clear situation from his vantage point. He’s thrown three black flags in his 17 years as the Supercross race director and coincidentally two of them had Reed on each side of the infraction. One was for Reed when he clearly retaliated against Trey Canard in 2015 (see the video below). Another was for Kyle Chisholm, when he (while being lapped) attempted to T-bone Reed in Salt Lake City in 2009, when Reed was locked in a championship battle with Chisholm’s teammate, James Stewart.
“It’s easy to surmise, in past tense, what should have been done,” Gallagher said via telephone. “A black flag is un-appealable. You can’t rerun the race. Dungey did two things that made [the decision to issue Reed a black flag] very difficult. He came up behind Reed and then pulled back. He never once went out of the line that Reed was in.”
Under section “4.17 Flags and Lights” in the AMA rulebook, item number two of four states “When conditions allow, move out of the fast line.” Reed was ultimately punished for waiting two minutes and 30 seconds to do this. Item number four states that a rider may be black flagged at the discretion of the race director. According to Gallagher, when he finally spoke with Reed, Reed said he was focused on trying to catch and pass Cooper Webb and Justin Barcia ahead of him and that Dungey wasn’t right there.
Was Dungey "too nice" on the track?
Having the luxury of playback days later does reveal that Dungey didn’t seem to make any aggressive attempts on Reed and even fell back a bike length or two at times. It’s impossible to know what Dungey was thinking (requests for comment were not returned). Was he apprehensive about getting aggressive? Was he worried about Reed retaliating for what Dungey said earlier on the podium? (See below.)
Damon Bradshaw won 19 Supercross main events in his career and was watching the St. Louis race from home. His reaction was that Reed should have moved out of the way.
“Dungey definitely handled this better than I would have,” Bradshaw said. “I would have definitely ran it in harder if I had the opportunity and I also would have been yelling at the top of my lungs. And I definitely would have caught him outside.”
Analyzing the lap times tells a story, too. Before being lapped by Tomac, Reed had logged three consecutive lap times of 55 seconds. On laps 16 and 17, however, he sped up and dropped to 53 seconds. Dungey, meanwhile had been running laps at 50 and 51 seconds but fell to 52 and 53 when he got caught behind Reed. After yielding to Dungey, Reed’s lap times went back to average 55 seconds for the remaining seven laps. He never did pass Webb or Barcia.
How in the hell did we get to this point anyway? It began with the start of the main event at round 12 in Detroit when Reed and Dungey lined up next to each other and slammed elbows several times on their way to the first corner (see the video below). Reed careened and crashed into other riders and got his body banged up. Dungey came out mid-pack.
This spilled over to St. Louis where, in the qualifying heat race, Reed and Dungey battled for the lead. There was contact, but from the spectator’s viewpoint nothing nefarious happened. The fans were on their feet (for a heat race, remember) but Dungey, who eventually won, saw it differently.
On the podium he threw gasoline on the flame. He wasn’t even asked about the battle with Reed, but rather about being sick with the flu earlier in the week. He quickly answered that inquiry and then blurted, “With Chad, I don’t know, he’s definitely got something out for us. I don’t really understand, um, trying to cut across the track and take us out. It’s really uncalled for, you know, it’s not very mature.” A comment like that most certainly got back to Reed.
Seven-time champion Jeremy McGrath also watched on TV from home. He didn’t see anything wrong from Reed in the heat race. McGrath won 72 SX races in his career, the most all time, and I wanted to know what he would have done in Dungey’s position.
“I think Dungey is guilty of being too nice,” McGrath said. “It took a lot but when someone got under my skin by being a jerk on the track, I put them in their place and Dungey had the opportunity twice in that heat to assert his dominance and didn't do it. It's amazing what changes when you smash someone hard.”
By the time Dungey reached Reed in the main event that night, he’d cut Tomac’s lead in half, to 1.9 seconds. Would Dungey have caught and battled with Tomac? To say “he wouldn’t have caught him anyway” isn’t the point. Would Moises Alou have caught that fly ball on October 14, 2003? We’ll never know and that’s why it’s the fans of Supercross who were robbed more than Ryan Dungey.
Reed has no doubt lost some followers in the ordeal and they’ve flooded his most recent Instagram post (which, oddly, was over five weeks ago) with nearly 1,100 comments. The majority slant is complete disgust for Reed’s actions (those sensitive to bad language and hate speech, beware). Even one of Reed’s friends said the blue flag incident was going a bit too far. On the podium, Dungey dismissed the question about Reed by saying he wasn’t going to waste any more time talking about it. Instead he spoke of how happy he was with the way he rode. And he should be. For the first time since the points skid started, Dungey showed that he could run Tomac’s pace. In the post-race press conference, however, he opened up:
“That guy’s been in it that long and that much experience, and you would think he would understand what it’s like to be in the position that I am, but he has no respect for us and what we’re doing, trying to do. So I have a lot of respect for the guy, still do. Just tonight was just a low blow.”
Dungey and Reed face a different kind of stress
What’s clear is that neither Reed nor Dungey is having the season they hoped for when the first gate dropped in January. That seems ridiculous in Dungey’s case, considering he’s leading the championship, but to see his points lead erode from 29 after round six to four after round 13 has to be stressful.
Other statistics also paint a grim picture for the Red Bull KTM rider. Dungey has only won two races in 2017. In his three championship-winning seasons (2010, 2015, 2016), he won no fewer than six main events. He has to win all four remaining races to match that. Dungey has not led a single lap of main event action since Feb. 25, when he ran the table in Atlanta. That was 118 laps ago and the wrecking ball that is Eli Tomac has led 103 laps in that span.
Reed, meanwhile, is now 10th, an unfamiliar situation for the Australian. Since he moved to the 450 class (2003), Reed has never finished worse than fifth overall in points in seasons that didn’t end early because of injury. The fact that Reed is fighting to stay inside the top 10 in a season where he’s been in every main event is unsettling for the 35-year-old.
Making it even more difficult for Dungey is his own teammate, Marvin Musquin, who still has an outside (but longshot) chance at the title. He’s 49 points down and he’s beaten Dungey straight up in two of the last three races, costing Dungey four points in the process.
Tomac has never won a 450-class title in either Supercross or Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Dungey wrapped up all of his six 450 championships (SX and MX) before the final round. If the trend continues, Dungey and Tomac will engage in a winner-take-all race at the final round in Las Vegas on May 6. It’s a pressure situation for both riders.