Supercross Preview: Razor thin margins separate title contenders

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The top four riders this week enter Arlington with only two points separating them. A slight bobble by Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac or Marvin Musquin could break up this dominance – but since all four of them have swept the top 10 in the first six rounds – don’t expect anyone to make a big mistake this week.

That’s because the hard-packed Northern Texas dirt has a reputation for holding its consistency throughout the event. By the time the Feature lines up, they should all be comfortable with the racing lines. Riders have a chance to find their rhythm and slowly improve as the night progresses.

Zach Osborne could play the role of spoiler. He returns to competition this week after suffering a broken collarbone before the season opener at Anaheim I, which is good news after injuries thinned the field of his teammate Jason Anderson, Justin Hill and Malcolm Stewart.

Dean Wilson continues to stand in for Anderson as Osborne’s teammate. He has almost shown the same level of consistency as the top four with only one result (a 12th in the mud at San Diego) outside the top 10.

Meanwhile in the 250 class, Christian Craig is expected to miss Arlington to allow his thumb to heal after sustaining an injury in December. He climbed aboard his steed at Minneapolis last week, but could only manage a 20th-place finish.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 2 p.m. on NBC Sports, Gold
Race: Live, 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and NBC Sports, Gold

Last Week:

Cooper Webb won his third event over Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner won the East season opener over Jordon Smith and Justin Cooper in the 250 class.

Last year:

Eli Tomac beat Marvin Musquin and Blake Baggett in the 450 class.
Zach Osborne beat Colt Nichols and James Decotis in the 250 class.

Winners

450s:
[3] Cooper Webb (Anaheim II, Oakland and Minneapolis)
[1] Justin Barcia (Anaheim I)
[1] Blake Baggett (Glendale)
[1] Eli Tomac (San Diego)

250 West:
[3] Adam Cianciarulo (Glendale, Oakland, San Diego)
[1] Colt Nichols (Anaheim I)
[1] Shane McElrath (Anaheim II)

250 East:
[1] Austin Forkner (Minneapolis)

Top-5s

450s:
Ken Roczen (6)
Eli Tomac (5)
Marvin Musquin (5)
Cooper Webb (4)
Dean Wilson (2)
Blake Baggett (2)
Justin Barcia (1)
Jason Anderson (1)
Justin Bogle (1)
Chad Reed (1)
Joey Savatgy (1)
Justin Brayton (1)

250 West:
Shane McElrath (5)
Adam Cianciarulo (5)
Colt Nichols (4)
RJ Hampshire (3)
Dylan Ferrandis (3)
James Decotis (2)
Jacob Hayes (1)
Garrett Marchbanks (1)
Jess Pettis (1)

250 East:
Austin Forkner (1)
Jordon Smith (1)
Justin Cooper (1)
Alex Martin (1)
Chase Sexton (1)

Points Leaders

450s:
Ken Roczen (125)
Cooper Webb (124)
Eli Tomac (123)
Marvin Musquin (123)
Dean Wilson (95)

250 West:
Adam Cianciarulo (114)
Shane McElrath (105)
Colt Nichols (104)
Dylan Ferrandis (102)
RJ Hampshire (75)

250 East:
Austin Forkner (26)
Jordon Smith (23)
Justin Cooper (21)
Alex Martin (19)
Chase Sexton (18)

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).