Jeremy Martin could clinch 250 Class Motocross championship Saturday at Indiana

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Jeremy Martin entered the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship as an afterthought for many. Now, he can no longer be ignored.

Martin has been this season’s breakout rider in the 250 Class. It all started when he opened up the year with five consecutive moto wins – most of them coming in dominating fashion. Since then, the Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha rider has successfully overcome patches of adversity and now sits on the verge of a championship – one that he’s very likely to lock up this weekend in Indiana.

“The title would be a pretty big deal,” Martin said when we caught up with him at the track this week. “I always dreamed of winning an outdoor national championship as a kid, and to be able to make it happen would definitely be a dream come true. I’ll be pretty happy when that happens.”

Despite generating a lot of buzz with his rides in the latter half of the 2013 motocross season, Martin was overlooked in the 2014 championship discussion thanks to a deep field of riders in the 250 Class and a disappointing Supercross season. Being the underdog suits Martin just fine though.

“Honestly, I didn’t care to be in the discussion at all,” he said. “I figured, leave it for the other riders that want it and enjoy being in that limelight and being the center of attention. I’m more off in the shadows and like to do my own thing. I knew what I could do, and I wanted to go out and do it for myself, and it was pretty cool to be able to do that.”

Ten rounds into the season, Martin has racked up four overall victories and eight moto wins. It’s his consistency that has set him apart from the rest of the field though.

The end result is that he now holds a 66-point lead over Blake Baggett and a 74-point advantage over Cooper Webb with four motos left in the season. Martin could officially clinch the title as soon as the end of the first moto in Indiana – a victory for him, plus a sixth-place (or worse) finish for Baggett would be enough to get the job done.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Martin said of his prospective championship. “Hopefully it will later, but right now we’ve got a job to do.”

As for the future, Martin has already re-signed with the Star Yamaha team for another two years. Barring a major disaster, he’ll enter 2015 as the defending champion in the 250 Class, but he doesn’t expect to feel any extra pressure riding with the #1 plate next season.

“It’s not gonna be any different than what it is now,” Martin said. “When you’re the guy leading the points every week, everyone’s gunning to beat you because they know they can’t afford to lose any more points to you. It’s gonna be the same – the only difference is the idea of knowing that you’ve got the #1 plate.”

Based on the way he’s handled the pressure this whole season, the rest of the field will have their work cut out for them if they want to take the title away from him next year.

Watch Martin attempt to secure the 250 Class championship on Saturday. Live streaming coverage of the Thor Indiana National begins at 10:30 a.m. ET with the second practice session, followed by the pre-show at 12:15 p.m. ET. First motos in both classes get underway at 1:00 p.m. ET, with second motos to follow at 3:00 p.m. ET. Watch the live stream via ProMotocross.com or NBC Sports Live Extra.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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