Welcome back, EJ Viso, even if it’s in admittedly less than ideal circumstances.
The Venezuelan was forced to withdraw on the eve of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, with Carlos Munoz drafted in as a last-minute replacement at Andretti Autosport.
Now it’s Viso’s turn to deputize for one of the Andretti quartet, with James Hinchcliffe sidelined due to a concussion suffered during the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Hinchcliffe was checked and released Satruday evening from Indianapolis Methodist hospital with symptoms of a concussion. On Sunday, the Canadian made a brief appearance, but no medical evaluation was performed today and the three-time race winner returned to his Indianapolis home to rest and recuperate. Hinchcliffe could return to the speedway for re-evaluation as early as Tuesday, however a date for his next medical visit has not yet been set. In the meantime, the Canadian is not cleared to drive in Indy 500 practice sessions.
“So far things have been pretty smooth,” Viso said. “I love working with these guys. Last year I had an amazing year, an amazing experience, and I only have positive things to talk about my teammates and my team. This opportunity just showed up overnight.”
Viso also addressed the flow of information regarding his appointment to the seat on Saturday. The Venezuelan tweeted a picture of him in Hinchcliffe’s firesuit shortly after news got out he had a concussion, but later deleted the tweet.
“Of course we all know what happened to Hinch – at the same time, he is a great friend of mine, he was my teammate last year,” he said. “Right now I’m helping him out, putting miles on his car and hoping he comes back soon and jumps back in. It’s all credit to the team; we have a very strong car, and I think with the little things we’re tuning up, they’ll become very important later on in the week when we start trimming the car. As of now we have a good database from last year to start the month off.”
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.