SEMA, GRC Las Vegas week notes, musings, observations

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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LAS VEGAS – While endurance races for sports car racing generally don’t take place in November, the week that is SEMA Show week in Las Vegas is still something of a marathon. And with most of this only being written on Thursday, there’s still a day to go (today).

Anyway, this is a bit of a different week in terms of motors coverage, because while there’s plenty of drivers from the worlds of NASCAR, IndyCar, drag racing and sports cars present, it’s primarily an industry-focused event.

Some thoughts and observations from the week, then:

  • Logano’s graciousness. In series you cover full-time, you may occasionally take interviews for granted. You know the key players, stakeholders and manufacturers – or at least you should, otherwise you’re in an abnormal position. So in my case, yesterday’s NASCAR Talk interview I did with Joey Logano at the Whelen display was only the second time I’d ever interviewed him (January for an MST preseason piece, prior to NASCAR Talk site launch). And all things considered, I was expecting a “no comment” or something similar considering my colleagues Nate Ryan and Dustin Long – both of whom were huge helps on the story – are the primary NASCAR writers and know Logano, and his team, far better. So when Logano not only gave the interview, but then proceeded to be as candid as he was, I was both relieved and a bit stupefied, to be honest. Ordinarily you don’t get that kind of quality content on a whim, but after waiting the better part of an hour considering Logano was there for a Whelen appearance and to sign autographs, it was all-too-kind of him to provide the three minutes and change. It’s the things like that you don’t necessarily see from the outside that go into a story, but helps create the content. Say what you will about what he said, but the fact he said anything, I’m hugely appreciative of.
  • Sheer size and volume. If you’ve never been to SEMA, you need to plan for several things: time management, a heck of a lot of walking and even more pre-planning. Mapping out schedules, appointments, locations and where in what part of the Las Vegas Convention Center (it’s four giant halls, with tens of thousands of booths) is a job in-and-of itself. Preparation for this event is the single most important part of making a productive SEMA week. In just three days, I think I’ve banked close to 60,000 steps and nearly 30 miles of walking in-and-around Las Vegas between the SEMA Show and the Red Bull Global Rallycross event.
  • Red Bull Global Rallycross is quirky but cool. I think I’ll put together a separate column on my thoughts on Red Bull Global Rallycross likely for next week, and will also have an interview with the series’ newly crowned champion Scott Speed out next week. Initial thoughts after finally attending my first race? It’s certainly different than what I’m used to, but the format seems to appeal to a younger generation, which is the goal. There seems enough positivity in the paddock of optimism for a better 2016 to build on this year. Flexibility is something required in spades, given how frequently the schedule can and does change. But the racing’s generally fun, and that’s important. The cars, as I found out thanks to a ride-along the other day, are fantastic.
  • Sports car odds and ends. A lot of would-be, potential and eventual 2016 programs seemed to come out of the woodwork this week – all at once – and I’d refer you to more sports car-focused sites for more details on what they were. I spent a lot of time talking with various drivers, all of whom were here in some capacity either chasing deals, asking about programs or some combination of both. Busy times, especially as the IMSA series has a test in two weeks and Pirelli World Challenge confirmed several news items during its “State of the Series” presentation on Tuesday.
  • Respectable IndyCar presence for both. I imagine the Verizon IndyCar Series will have a greater presence at next month’s PRI show in Indianapolis, but it was well-represented out in Las Vegas. There were two cars (Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden’s respective cars, the latter adorned in a special GoPro livery) on display at SEMA, and Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe, Gabby Chaves, Stefan Wilson and Anders Krohn were among the IndyCar crowd at the GRC race. It was good to see that bit of cross pollination, especially as so many IndyCar teams have GRC programs.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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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.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

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.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

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.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

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.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2