The 2019 season opener was full of surprises.


1/10/2019

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The opening round of AMA Supercross Championship seasons always contain a few surprises. Which team was best prepared? Which rider(s) put in the most effective work? Will it rain? All of these questions were answered this past Saturday night - and many more raised - after a truly interesting Round 1 of the 2019 season.

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All was dry and perfect when the first weekend of January opened up for Supercross fans everywhere. The track was unusually challenging for the first round, and much more so when a fair amount of rain was added to the mix. When dry lap times were roughly typical for a Supercross event - in the 55 second range for the top riders - but after the rains fell, riders were averaging 1:08 to 1:15 over the course of the main event. So, while not a mud quagmire, it was clear that the light to heavy rain throughout the events had a huge impact.

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As is often the case mud is the great equalizer and typically produces results that may not reflect what most pundits expected. This was certainly the case for Anaheim 1, and the podium result doesn't even come close to telling the whole story. There were interesting stories to tell throughout the pack and duration of the 450 (and 250) main events, with many surprise performances that bode well for an exciting series to come.

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After a six year dry spell (and even longer than that for a Yamaha-mounted rider), Justin Barcia claimed another 450 main event victory. It didn't come easy, as BamBam had to work his way past a few unusual front-runners to make his way to the front, all the while by being chased down by the likes of Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac. Barcia is enjoying a rejuvenation of his career after several off-years. He's gotten married, seems to have his head on straight and is on the team he wants to be on as their premier rider - Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing. He showed great maturity in his march to the win last weekend, and as if his confidence level wasn't already high, it's sure to be through the roof this weekend in Glendale. Adding to that will be the first time the #51 has had the red points leader plate in his entire 450 career. Time will tell if he can handle its weight.

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HRC Honda's Ken Roczen admittedly used the entire 2018 Supercross season to race himself back into shape and re-gain the confidence he'd lost the previous two seasons. After two horrific hand/arm injuries (one on each side, about a year apart), Kenny has just been going through the motions lately. This year, he's all-in with full confidence, fitness and, according to him, his arms are ready to win races again. He was fast and steady at Anaheim 1, clearly upset at the podium that he wasn't able to catch Barcia. In slick, very challenging and risky conditions, Roczen was going for the win with everything he had. He's ready to win again, which should light a fire under guys like...

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...Monster Energy Kawasaki's Eli Tomac. With eight main event wins last year, Tomac came up short in the title chase due to a few major miscues - not the least of which was a crash while leading at Anaheim 1 2018 that forced him to miss the following round. He spent the remainder of the season playing catch-up, but this year is different. Coming out of a difficult race in Round 1 to end up on the podium after marching through the pack, Tomac must have a very strong sense of accomplishment heading into Round 2 this weekend in Arizona. By just about anyone's estimation, Tomac is the rider to beat in this championship season. He'll need to calm down and learn to breathe while tearing up the tracks nationwide, and hopefully he's worked on his ability to re-mount and re-start after falling over (which has been a problem for him the past couple of years). The e-start on the new KX450 should help with that, but his goal is likely to relax and not hit the ground in the first place. Tomac should feel like this title is his for the taking, all he needs to do is enjoy the ride.

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Dean Wilson is back to the front of the pack. Wilson nabbed the holeshot and held the lead for 13 laps before running into trouble with lappers and tossing his goggles. Of course that's never a good idea in muddy conditions, and this time proved no different as he dropped from first to fourth in just a couple of laps. Granted, the guys passing him are the best in the business (Barcia, Roczen and Tomac), but Deano was disappointed nonetheless. If he was lacking confidence in his speed, fitness and consistency coming into this season, it's safe to say that Wilson now feels quite good about his podium chances from here on out.

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Yet another surprising and refreshing performance came from new Red Bull/KTM Factory Racing's newest member Cooper Webb. Down in turn one, Webb got up with muddy hands with the rain falling and worked his way past most of the greatest Supercross racers in the world to end up fifth at the finish. In every sense, this was a great ride by a rider who's been under-performing since making his 450 debut two years ago. Webb was expected to instantly make an impact in the class when he first hopped on the YZ450 after winning the 250 motocross title, but it just never happened. This season could be his breakout year, which adds yet more interest in what's proving to be an incredibly talent-laden 450 field this season.

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In a night full of surprises, possibly the biggest surprise of all was the performance put in by Malcolm Stewart. Finally starting a 450 season on a competitive bike and team, and starting at Round 1 ready to go (instead of a few rounds in as a fill-in rider off the couch), Stewart showed great promise. Third place in qualifying is no fluke in a field this stacked, and running second for most of the main event before slipping around a bit on the ground to end up seventh doesn't tell the whole story. Every rider in front of him was a former champion in either 250 or 450 Supercross (of course, Stewart is a former 250 champ as well), but most of the riders he beat were full factory riders with many championships between them. It was a great ride by, yet again, a rider who's as of yet been underperforming since moving to the big bikes. Stewart will carry loads of momentum and confidence into Glendale, that's for sure.

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On the other end of the spectrum is defending champion Jason Anderson. He came into Anaheim seemingly fit and ready to rip as the reigning 450SX Supercross champion. There had been a rumor he had suffered a minor injury to a hand/arm/wrist, but nothing was confirmed and it seemed he was good to go based on the pre-race press conference. He was on par with qualifying (sixth, right behind Tomac and within the same second as the top seven qualifiers), but things seemed to unravel a bit in his heat race. Managing only a fifth place finish - and last of the full factory riders - Anderson's night was in question. The main event went even worse as he seemed to really drop anchor after a few laps and as track conditions deteriorated. While never known as a mudder, either Jason was hurting, he had unspecified bike trouble, or the extremely talented field of riders were just better than him this night.

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The Glendale, Ariz., round at State Farm Stadium took the place of the downtown Phoenix round several years ago. The entire event has a different feel, with much more space for the pit area and a larger stadium floor that allows for a longer start and this year features a full length start straight and extended rhythm sections. All of this spells for exciting racing, and with a plethora of 180' bowl turns, a lot of passing opportunities. Weather won't be an issue this time, that much is for sure, and with all of the confident and capable riders heading into Round 2, this is bound to be a great night of racing! 


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