Supercross Preview: Daytona could be the season’s turning point

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There is a lot of room on the infield grass on the frontstretch of Daytona International Speedway; just ask any NASCAR driver who has slid down its length. That gave Ricky Carmichael ample room to work his magic when he designed this week’s course for Round 10 of the Supercross season.

Beginning on pit road across from the start/finish line, the course sweeps out toward the straightaway before heading toward NASCAR Turn 1, then serpentines its way back and forth across the infield through a variety of hard-packed dirt and sand.

Due in part because of its length and the room that affords to create some gnarly jumps and challenging rhythm sections, this is one of the most grueling courses the series will face all year. As part of Daytona’s famed Bike Week, it is also one of the most prestigious. Daytona has been part of the Supercross schedule since the series first launched.

Cooper Webb posted back-to-back wins twice this season. Daytona gives him the opportunity to do so again after last week’s win in Atlanta and if he does so, it will make a major statement to the field. There is still time for the field to catch up to Webb, but in Round 10 of 17 the clock is starting to tick louder with each passing week.

Two East division riders will not make the show. Jordon Smith is out for a wrist injury he sustained at Arlington that has not yet healed. Mitchell Falk was also injured just prior to Arlington and that gives the Troy Lee Designs / Red Bull KTM team the time and resources necessary to allow 250 West rider Shane McElrath the opportunity to race in the 450 class. McElrath currently sits third in the 250 West division. He has a previous start at East Rutherford, NJ in 2015 with an 11th-place finish.

In the 250 class, Austin Forkner looks to get back to dominating that division after falling behind West division riders Adam Cianciarulo and Dylan Ferrandis in last week’s Showdown in Atlanta. A third-place finish in the feature was the first race that he’s failed to win all season.

MORE: Supercross kicks off Daytona Bike Week

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports, Gold
Race: Live, 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports, Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Cooper Webb scored his fifth win of the year over Blake Baggett and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Adam Cianciarulo and Dylan Ferrandis from the West topped Austin Forkner and Chase Sexton from the East in 2019’s first Showdown event.

Last Year:

Justin Brayton got his first career win over Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb in the 450 class.
In 250s, Jordon Smith won over Jeremy Martin and Austin Forkner in the 250 class.

Winners

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

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

250 East:
[3] Austin Forkner (Minneapolis, Arlington and Detroit)

Top-5s

450s:
Ken Roczen (9)
Marvin Musquin (7)
Cooper Webb (7)
Eli Tomac (6)
Blake Baggett (5)
Dean Wilson (2)
Joey Savatgy (2)
Chad Reed (2)
Justin Barcia (1)
Jason Anderson (1)
Justin Bogle (1)
Justin Brayton (1)
Aaron Plessinger (1)

250 West:
Adam Cianciarulo (6)
Shane McElrath (5)
Colt Nichols (4)
Dylan Ferrandis (4)
RJ Hampshire (3)
James Decotis (2)
Jacob Hayes (1)
Garrett Marchbanks (1)
Jess Pettis (1)

250 East:
Austin Forkner (4)
Justin Cooper (4)
Chase Sexton (4)
Jordon Smith (3)
Martin Davalos (2)
Alex Martin (1)

Points Leaders

450s:
Cooper Webb (199)
Ken Roczen (186)
Marvin Musquin (182)
Eli Tomac (177)
Blake Baggett (142)

250 West:
Adam Cianciarulo (140)
Dylan Ferrandis (125)
Shane McElrath (123)
Colt Nichols (120)
RJ Hampshire (86)

250 East:
Austin Forkner (99)
Justin Cooper (81)
Chase Sexton (79)
Jordon Smith (70)
Alex Martin (60)

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Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”