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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Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.