What to watch for: Pro Motocross at Budds Creek (noon ET, Live Extra)

Leave a comment

After a week off, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship resumes at Budds Creek, officially marking the midway point of the season.

Coverage starts at noon E.T. on NBC Sports Live Extra with the pre-race show, followed by first motos in both classes at 1 p.m. ET. Second motos will stream live online starting at 3 p.m. ET and will also air on NBCSN tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

The story of the day at Budds Creek is the weather. Rain fell this morning, which resulted in practice being condensed into one 20-minute session for each class. Heavy thunderstorms are in the forecast for later today, which would make for a muddy, challenging track.

Weather aside, the biggest thing to watch for in the 450 Class is the continued battle between Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey. Roczen is clearly ready to challenge for wins week in and week out but is still facing a 37-point deficit in the standings.

Behind Roczen and Dungey though, an intriguing battle has developed for podium positioning. Jason Anderson, Justin Barcia and Blake Baggett have begun to distance themselves from the rest of the field as the most consistent podium threats. The three of them are separated by just five points entering today’s race. Anderson and Baggett are rookies in the 450 Class, and Barcia is adjusting to a new bike this year, so all three riders could continue to improve as the season goes on.

Another rider looking to add his name to that list is Christophe Pourcel. The Frenchman seemed to turn a corner two weeks ago at High Point, setting the fastest lap in practice, then turning two good starts into a pair of top-five moto finishes. Once again, he was the fastest qualifier this morning at Budds Creek and could be riding upfront for a second straight round.

The 250 Class has been dominated by Marvin Musquin and Jeremy Martin so far this year – the two have combined to lead 143 of 164 laps and are the only riders to win a moto this year – but a familiar foe will be back in the fold this week, as Cooper Webb makes his return to Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Webb has been out since reaggravating an ankle injury in the second moto at Hangtown but feels that he’s ready to return.

Webb is part of a group of contenders in the 250 Class looking to break through and end the dominance of Martin and Marvin. Another such rider, Adam Cianciarulo, may end up being the best bet and was the fastest qualifier in practice today, turning a 2:18.8 lap time.

Jessy Nelson has been in the mix as well this season, and although he only qualified tenth, he excelled on a muddy track last year when he won the first moto at Indiana. The track hasn’t degenerated to that level at this point, but with storms in the forecast for later, that remains something to keep in mind.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne