The theme at the start of the 2015 Monster Energy Supercross season was #whosnext. It has become, #whosleftstanding.
At the start of the year, the two biggest pieces of news were about who would not be racing. After four consecutive Supercross titles, Ryan Villopoto decided to go race the Motocross World Championship, instead. Meanwhile, James Stewart was suspended for a year for using a banned substance.
It looked like the series would be wide open, and more than half a dozen names were tossed around as potential champions. Would one of the former champions, Ryan Dungey or the veteran, Chad Reed, add another title? Would it be a breakthrough year for a fast young rider like Justin Barcia or Eli Tomac? Ken Roczen was an obvious contender, and Davi Millsaps had to be considered. Would Trey Canard avoid the bad-luck injuries and win? There was no shortage of candidates and the TV guys were pushing the #whosnext theme from the beginning of the Anaheim I heat races.
Instead, one by one, the candidates for #whosnext fell away. Both Tomac and Millsaps crashed in the first race at Anaheim, putting themselves in a deep hole in the points. Meanwhile, a win, a second and a win in the first three races made Roczen look like he was #whosnext, but that didn't last, either.
Roczen crashed hard at the next round, in Oakland, while Canard got the win. But the points lead was assumed by Dungey, who had been quietly amassing podium finishes.
Next, Barcia fell out with a practice injury. Roczen crashed again in the first of the two rounds in Atlanta, injuring his foot and ankle. He would battle on in pain for a while, but by Daytona, he had to withdraw.
Canard's bad luck re-emerged at Detroit. He was still in second place in the points standings at the time, but in the semi, Jake Weimer came up short on a jump and Canard found himself in mid-air with his landing spot occupied by Weimer. Both riders suffered broken arms.
During all the carnage around him, Dungey, nicknamed "the Diesel," motored steadily on, never finishing lower than his fourth place at the opening round. Others won races — Roczen, Tomac, Canard and Reed — but they have not been as consistent and two are out due to injuries. Now, with six wins, including Saturday at St. Louis, Dungey goes into the Easter break with an 80-point lead.
"There's four races left and obviously the title is important and it's the goal, long-term, in the series. But I've got to keep racing each night, going out there and racing to win," Dungey said. "Being consistent, but also consistently winning, is important, I believe. We work too hard not to win."
At St. Louis, a good start by Dungey meant Tomac, who moved up fast through the field, did not have a chance to catch him. But Dungey says he will not settle easily for second.
"If Eli was there, I was really ready to put in strong laps with him," Dungey said.
The math now looks very discouraging for Tomac. All Dungey, the man whose worst finish in 2015 is fourth, has to do to guarantee winning the title is finish 16th in the last four races. All he has to do is be the one #whosleftstanding.