BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Three drivers from single-car teams enjoyed their best qualifying runs of the season and first Firestone Fast 6 appearances in some time Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.
Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 11 Europa Chevrolet) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) will line up from third, fifth and sixth, respectively.
Their best starts this year were sixth (Rahal) and seventh (Newgarden and Bourdais). Rahal equaled his best, although he qualified seventh at St. Petersburg and moved up one after Will Power was unable to start.
Newgarden, the defending race winner after starting fifth and leading 46 of 90 laps, and in his final race in the special Fuzzy’s Vodka commemorative livery, exceeded his own expectations.
“I didn’t think we were going to be that high up,” he admitted. “I have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing, it was just kind of hard to put everything together this weekend. We were just floating inside that top 10, and I never felt like we could get up to the top three, top five as easily as we wanted to.
“We made a really good change going into qualifying. I think it’s something we were probably missing, so luckily we hit it at the right point, and that really helped us in qualifying to get where we were.”
Bourdais has been on it all weekend with KVSH and was unlucky to only end fifth; he set the track record in Q2 at 1:06.6001.
He was also on it last week at Long Beach, gaining five positions during the race from 14th to ninth.
“It’s always screwed up when it goes like that, right?” he said. “You set the track record and then you get disappointed when you finish fifth. You know, it’s a shame. The guys did a great job. We unloaded off the truck real strong, and that HYDROXYCUT machine was really dialed in.
“Just couldn’t quite make it happen on the rerun on the tires, just picked up a bit too much understeer and just couldn’t get back on power on these long, long, long turns. Only the juice of the new tires could have allowed me to put it together, and it was a really clean lap, and it’s so funny when the car is like that, everything seems easy, and it was one of the very enjoyable moments of the week for sure.”
Rahal, who finished second to Newgarden last year, upheld Honda’s honor in sixth.
“The car was good on reds,” he said. “We snuck through that first group, and then didn’t quite hit it on the first round, didn’t get the reds to match their capability, and then finally second round we did. That was about as good of a lap I think as — there was definitely nowhere else for me to find time. So I knew in round three we were going to have to put some magic together to be up front.
“These guys are all great competitors up front. We’re top Honda. Obviously we’d like to be the top of everything, but we’re going to keep working hard and try to harass these boys tomorrow in the race.”
Of course with Newgarden and Rahal having ended 1-2 ahead of Scott Dixon last year, there’s evidence that the smaller teams can take it to the Penskes and Ganassis of the world at this track.
It will be fascinating to see if any or all these three can do it again this weekend.
Tomorrow's starting position – 3rd for @josefnewgarden! (In 2015, we started 5th and finished 1st)
Another crash while leading at Seattle dropped Chase Sexton from the top of the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings while solid performances by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac allow them to climb the chart and threaten to make this a two-rider battle with six rounds remaining in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season.
During the race, Webb knew he had ground to make up. Riding behind both Tomac and Sexton early in the Main, he was as far back as fifth on Lap 7 at Seattle. That position would cost him the red plate and give away the advantage he began to build with his first win of the season in Tampa. Sexton is often at his best as he battles from the back and he methodically worked his way through the field. At the end of the feature, he was nearly five seconds off Tomac’s pace, but during the past 45 days, he holds the advantage. A resurgent Tomac that could erase that advantage quickly though.
Tomac struggled in Indianapolis with a neck strain. That contributed to his worst performance of 2023 and his second result outside the top five. He finished third in Detroit two weeks ago, but it was a distant third after finishing off the podium in his heat during that round. In Seattle, it appeared the same thing might happen when Tomac finished third in the prelim behind his two principal competitors Webb and Sexton. The Main was a different story.
Tomac dropped to fourth in the opening laps behind both of his rivals early in the race, but he got around Webb on Lap 2 and kept charging. When Sexton fell to the ground on Lap 11 and dropped to fourth, Tomac was in position to strike. He scored his sixth win of the season to tie James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list. He now shares the red plate with Webb as the rounds wind down.
Sexton has the speed, but he lacks the seasoning of Webb and Tomac. He’s pressing hard on every lap and that has bitten him several times this year. Sexton’s mistakes are costing him with a 10th-place finish at Indy, the loss of seven points at Detroit and a fifth in Seattle as the riders he’s battling stood on the podium. No one seriously questions Sexton’s talent or speed, but ultimately the results are what counts.
Justin Barcia is hitting his stride. He advances two positions this week after scoring his fourth consecutive top-five and second podium in that span of races. Barcia finished between sixth and eighth in five consecutive rounds from Anaheim 2 through Arlington, but he’s mostly avoided controversy and that puts him fourth in this week’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.
Jason Anderson had a solid performance in Seattle, but with a fifth-place finish in his heat and fourth in the Main he just keeps losing a little ground to the leaders. The biggest impact to his standing in the NBC Power Rankings is a 10th-place finish in Indianapolis that will take a while to age out of the 45-day formula. He’s tied for fourth in the championship points with Ken Roczen, who sits sixth in the rankings below. It’s important to be the rider “best in class” with Webb, Tomac and Sexton stealing the show.
The 250 West riders were back in action in Seattle and that gave Jett Lawrence the opportunity to break out of a tie with his brother Hunter Lawrence on the all-time wins list. It also provided Jett the opportunity to take back the top spot in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Seattle.
Jett has stood on the podium in every race this year with the exception of the second Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2 and that level of perfection gives him bragging rights. Rest assured that while the two brothers have a bond that is unapparelled in motorsports, there is no one they would rather beat. Neither has been particularly successful in Triple Crown rounds this year, however, and Jett could lose his advantage in two weeks in Glendale, Arizona under that format.
A rivalry is developing between Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo. Tired of losing to the affable Australian, McAdoo pushed the envelope last week in Seattle. He crowded Lawrence in the whoops during their heat race and sent both to the ground. That frustration could bubble over with four rounds remaining. One thing is certain, when these two riders are in proximity on the track, the cameras will be aimed in their direction.
A little means a lot this season. Finishing second to Lawrence in four of five rounds, RJ Hampshire would be losing ground to the leader no matter what, but an 11th-place finish in the overall at Anaheim 2 places him eighth on the chart below behind two of the 250 West riders and five 250 East competitors.
In the mains, Levi Kitchen has been all over the board with a win, one more top-five, two results on the high side of the single digits and a crash-induced 21st at San Diego. He’s really shown his speed in the heats, however, with a perfect record of top-fives and a win.
Mitchell Oldenburg makes the top five list among West riders with a perfect record of top-10 finishes. He’s heading in the wrong direction, however, falling from ninth overall to 11th after finishing outside the top five in both his heat and the Main last week.
Jett Lawrence – W
Hunter Lawrence – E
Nate Thrasher – E
Cameron McAdoo – W
Haiden Deegan – E
Jeremy Martin – E
Jordon Smith – E
RJ Hampshire – W
Levi Kitchen – W
Max Anstie – E
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Max Vohland – W
Tom Vialle – E
Pierce Brown – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Chris Blose – E
Chance Hymas – E
Michael Mosiman – E
Stilez Robertson – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).