250 battle heats up as Austin Forkner crashes in Nashville Supercross

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The last time a rider won the Feature after winning the Last Chance Qualifier was on February 2, 2013, when Ryan Dungey performed the feat at Anaheim. Until Saturday night at Nashville in Round 14, that is.

Eli Tomac experienced engine problems in his heat after leading the first four laps. He failed to finish and was pushed into the LCQ.

In the “B” Main, his ride was smoking at the end of the race. But Tomac overcame his early woes to win his fourth race of the 2019 Supercross season.

“Talk about some adversity there,” Tomac said after the race on NBCSN. “I was able to recover. I’m kind of at a loss for words right now, really. The qualifying wasn’t so good today. … Then leading that heat race and we know what happened.

“That Main event there was something. … Overall, felt good that whole Main. Felt like I made some gains there.”

Now the series rolls into Denver – Tomac’s home track, where he may be alone in regard to physical conditioning for the high elevation.

When it’s your year, it’s your year, though. Cooper Webb went down hard on Lap 1 of his heat and would have struggled to finish with the leaders in that race, but a complete restart reset the field. Even with the mulligan, Webb struggled in his heat and finished an uncompetitive second.

Points are only awarded in the feature, however, and Webb grabbed the hole shot and held off a spirited battle with Marvin Musquin. After last week’s tangle between the two, Musquin was highly motivated to make the pass for the lead, but got off-line in the whoops and went down hard. He dropped to 20th. Webb took advantage of the mistake and built some separation between himself and the field.

Webb fell one more position to Blake Baggett in the closing laps, but still managed to earn his 10th podium finish in 14 races this year.

“I struggled all day, to be honest,” Webb said. “I’m lucky after that heat race when I got landed on. I was just sitting there and I think it hit me that this was a big deal.

“I got a blessing with that restart. That’s the championship. It tests you every race and I’m just happy to be up here. I was terrible in the whoops – and that was this racetrack. I think as everyone can see, I was just a fish out of water.”

Musquin’s fall and subsequent sixth-place finish cost him four points. Tomac cut into Webb’s lead and is tied for second in the standings. But overall, Webb now has a 21-point advantage over his closest competitors.

Dean Wilson finished fourth with Zach Osborne rounding out the top five.

Ken Roczen’s shot at the championship practically evaporated when Joey Savatgy went down on Lap 3 immediately in front of him while they battled for second. Roczen flipped over the top of the high-banked hairpin and had to scramble up the mountain. By the time he righted his Honda, he had fallen to 22nd. He climbed to eighth at the checkers and was the last rider to finish on the lead lap. Roczen is now 42 points out of the lead.

Complete Results
Points Standings

In 250s, the story was more about what did not happen, than what did.

Austin Forkner did not ride in the feature at Nashville and failed to earn any points with time running out in the 250 East division. He entered Nashville with a 26-point advantage over Chase Sexton and a 29-point lead over Justin Cooper, but a hard off in qualification left him with an injured leg. He limped off track and tried to get back on his bike for a few laps, but the pain in his leg was too much.

Forkner will have an MRI on Monday, at which point his future for 2019 will be known.

Sexton knew this was his opportunity to catch Forkner if he could win and capture the 26 points. Cooper could close to within two points and would hold his fate in his own hand if Forkner is able to return to competition. And as this was the first sign of weakness all year, both riders were desperate for a strong showing. Forkner has been perfect with five wins in East division. He was the top finishing East rider in the East/West Showdown in Atlanta.

Cooper attempted to take Sexton wide on Lap 1 and crashed both bikes.

Martin Davalos did all he could to help his teammate. He rode past Sexton and Cooper while they picked up their bikes and scored his fifth career win in his 99th start. His last victory came in April 2016 at Foxborough.

Once they separated, Sexton and Cooper were able to stay out of trouble and march back toward the front. Sexton fell as far back as 16th on Lap 1. He climbed into the top five on Lap 5, grabbed third on Lap 11 and set his sights on Davalos on Lap 13. At the checkers, he was able to cut the advantage to 3.508 seconds with a second-place finish.

“I got a really good start, which I was really happy about,” Sexton said to NBCSN after the race. “Made – I thought – a clean move on (Cooper) in the third corner. I came into the inside and he just ran us into the tough blocks and took us both out. It’s ok. We came back and passed him from dead last basically. It was good to get second and salvage points.”

Cooper climbed to third – 5.067 seconds behind Sexton.

Sexton was not able to completely catch Forkner, but he cut the lead to three points. Cooper is now seven behind.

Kyle Peters in fourth and Brandon Hartranft in fifth scored their first top-fives of the season.

Complete Results
Points Standings

450 Heat 1: Joey Savatgy rode Cooper Webb hard in the heat and took the win. … Trying to keep the pressure on, Webb jumped into the opposite lane on the last lap, but salvaged a second. … Justin Bogle rounded out the top three. … Marvin Musquin was riding well before the race was red flagged and restarted. He was not competitive after the restart and finished a distant eighth. … Eli Tomac’s bike shut off on Lap 3 while he was leading, sending him to the back of the field and into the LCQ. … Mike Alessi bombed Webb on Lap 1, but a red flag occasioned a complete restart for an accident involving Ronnie Stewart and Tyler Enticknap.

450 Heat 2: Ken Roczen keeps impressing in the heats with his fifth win of the season. … He took the checkers more than six seconds ahead of Cole Seely. … Zach Osborne rounded out the top three with Dean Wilson fourth. … Alex Ray took the final transfer position by a margin of 12 seconds over Ryan Breece.

450 Last Chance Qualifier: Eli Tomac got a bad start, but was patient during the first lap and picked off Justin Starling and Ryan Breece to sit comfortably in a transfer spot. One lap later, he slipped past Charles Lefrancois. By Lap 4, he rode easily past Austin Politelli to take the lead. On the white flag lap, his bike began to smoke, but he nursed it home to score his second LCQ win of the year. … Politelli, Starling, and Breece also advanced to the Main.

250 Heat 1: Martin Davalos rode to an easy win of 7.205 seconds over Alex Martin. … Martin was distracted by his fierce battle with Justin Cooper over the last couple of laps, but he held that advantage with Cooper winding up third. … That Cooper was around for the finish was in question. Riding third on Lap 1, Ramyller Alves went down on a jump and nearly collected Cooper.

250 Heat 2: Chase Sexton smelled blood in the water after Austin Forkner sustained an injury in qualification. He earned the holeshot and never looked back on his way to an almost 14 second lead. … Ryan Sipes took second easily over Mitchell Oldenburg. … Forkner was scheduled to ride in this race, before he scratched.

250 last Chance Qualifier: Steven Clarke won over James Weeks. … On the final lap, Cade Autenrieth squeezed past Kevin Moranz when Moranz was almost bucked from his Kawasaki. … After crashing in his heat, Ramyller Alves went down a second time in the LCQ. This time, he went down hard while leading.

Points Leaders

450SX
Cooper Webb (309) (6 wins)
Eli Tomac (288) (4 wins)
Marvin Musquin (288) (2 wins)
Ken Roczen (267)
Blake Baggett (238) (1 win)

250SX West
Adam Cianciarulo (182 points) (4 wins)
Dylan Ferrandis (177) (2 wins)
Colt Nichols (142) (1 win)
RJ Hampshire (126)
Shane McElrath (123) (1 win)

250SX East
Austin Forkner (151 points) (5 wins)
Chase Sexton (148)
Justin Cooper (144)
Martin Davalos (115) (1 win)
Mitchell Oldenburg (105)

Top 5s

450SX
Cooper Webb: 11
Marvin Musquin: 10
Eli Tomac: 10
Ken Roczen: 9
Blake Baggett: 8
Dean Wilson: 4
Joey Savatgy: 3
Chad Reed: 2
Justin Barcia: 2
Jason Anderson: 1
Justin Bogle: 1
Justin Brayton: 1
Aaron Plessinger: 1
Cole Seeley: 1
Zach Osborne: 1

250SX West
Adam Cianciarulo: 8
Dylan Ferrandis: 6
Shane McElrath: 5
Colt Nichols: 5
RJ Hampshire: 4
James Decotis: 4
Jacob Hayes: 1
Garrett Marchbanks: 1
Jess Pettis: 1
Michael Mosiman: 1
Chris Blose: 1

250SX East
Austin Forkner: 6
Justin Cooper: 7
Chase Sexton: 7
Jordon Smith: 3
Martin Davalos: 4
Alex Martin: 2
Mitchell Oldenburg: 2
Kyle Peters: 1
Brandon Hartranft: 1

Next race: April 13, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver, Colo.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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Ryan: Stressful second title is a soup good for Josef Newgarden’s soul

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MONTEREY, Calif. – At her family’s home in Nashville, Tennessee, Tina Newgarden always keeps an extra stash of corn chowder in the freezer.

She never knows when her son, Josef, unexpectedly might drop by in desperate need of his go-to comfort food.

“It’s just in case I’m not at home, and he just goes in and grabs it himself if he’s coming home from out of town,” Tina said with a knowing smile. “And then you’ll catch him down there eating his favorite soup and watching a movie.”

When he gets done this week with the whirlwind of media obligations required after becoming an NTT IndyCar Series champion for the second time, you probably will find Newgarden curled up on the couch with a warm bowl of old-fashioned goodness in his lap and an inspirational flick on the TV (perhaps a screening of “Return of the Jedi” for a Star Wars fan).

He was crowned Sunday as the best driver on a highly competitive circuit after a season of excellence (average start of 5.5, average finish of 5.6), but Josef Newgarden really has had a tough couple of months.

That was evident in the tears that flowed immediately after he exited his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and seemed ready to collapse in a pool of relief from the mental exhaustion and high anxiety that had followed his quest to become a two-time champion.

“I don’t ever cry,” Newgarden, 28, said Sunday after gritting out an eighth-place finish that clinched the championship in the season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway. “Actually, it infuriates my fiancée because I don’t think I’ve ever cried in front of her. It disturbed her in some ways. She’s like, ‘You never cry! I don’t know why you don’t do that. You should cry at some point.”

If there’s anyone who knew how the 2019 points battle weighed on him, it was Ashley Welch and the rest of Newgarden’s family – the outlet that was emotionally invested and supportive of his career but also provides a release from the tension.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with his father, Joey (left), his grandmother Karen Rasmussen (front), his fiancee, Ashley (second from right), and mother Tina (right) after his second championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

They were all on hand Sunday (including his father, Joey, and his “Mormor” Karen Rasmussen, the 80-year-old maternal grandmother who came from Denmark to attend her second IndyCar race) and shared in the culmination of what’s been a very emotional and eventful year (which still has wedding bells ahead).

Josef Newgarden with his grandmother (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Was it stressful?

“To say the least,” a beaming Welch said as she watched her fiancé hoist the Astor Cup on the championship stage. “The level of competitiveness in this sport is unreal. Any different guy can come in and win any different race.

“For him to be leading all of those different guys who had just as much potential, if not more sometimes. It means so much. We had a friend tell him after the first one, anyone can win one championship, but they remember you if you win two. So I think he feels like ‘Oh, it’s not just luck. I’m meant to be here.’ And that is …”

Welch paused and her voice briefly quavered as she watched Newgarden, whom she has been together with for seven years (they were engaged last October), hoist the Astor Cup above his head.

“Beautiful,” she smiled. “So I think you see all his emotion coming from it. I know him, and he’s thinking about how many people put their neck on the line to get him to where he is today. He talks about when he was little and starting to watch IndyCar racing, Penske was his pinnacle. Getting to drive for them but being able to perform and make an impact on their history, he feels it so much.

“You saw all the outpouring of “My dreams have come true! I’ve worked so hard, and they’re here!”

It certainly was a different feeling than two years ago when Newgarden won the pole position at Sonoma, led 41 laps and won punctuated his inaugural championship with a runner-up finish in the season finale.

Sunday’s drive was indicative of the weight – and wait — that Newgarden had endured while leading the championship standings for virtually six consecutive months since winning the season opener at St. Petersburg (he was out of the points only once – after a fourth in the Indianapolis 500 that now is the only void in his career).

“The first (championship), it was shocking and overwhelming,” Tina Newgarden said. “The second time it’s almost like he had this mark on his back because he’s been leading the points the whole season. So it would be really sad, devastating if he didn’t get it at the end of the season. But I’m so proud of him. He’s very disciplined. He just loves it so much.”

“If he’s down and has a bad day, then we’re down having a bad day as well. It’s terrible, but that’s just how it is. This is a good year, so now we can all breathe. The last two months has really been a little stressful. So yeah. We’ve been trying to keep the mood up, but God, I’m so happy!”

Newgarden, who qualified fourth and never had winning pace all weekend, said he felt “more nervous because I felt like this one was more ours to lose, and I thought we deserved (the championship). I didn’t want to make a mistake. I got a bit nervous in the middle of the race because I thought we were going down a rabbit hole we didn’t want to be down.”

But the very un-Newgarden-esque eighth – only the fourth time in 17 races he finished outside the top 10 this season – was the outcome of a sound pit strategy that delivered the title by 25 points over Simon Pagenaud, who proclaimed his Penske teammate “the most deserving guy” to win the title.

“It didn’t really start weighing on me until we got (to Laguna Seca),” Newgarden said. “I knew it would hit me here because it was double points. You know it’s going to be a very difficult situation. It’s just that intensity and that unknown, where if you make a small mistake, it can turn into a very big mistake. At another event, it wouldn’t be that way.”

Team owner Roger Penske noticed Newgarden had butterflies on the race morning before he would join Sam Hornish Jr. as the only American to win multiple IndyCar championships in the past two decades. “I think there’s so much emotion inside for someone like that because you’ve got to be perfect,” Penske said. “And I think the fact that he was able to execute the way he did, it was just a time to let it all out.”

Newgarden now is among lofty company on a list of multi-time champions at Team Penske that includes Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, Al Unser and Gil de Ferran. And his four-win season helped him take a critical step toward putting his name with true IndyCar legends such as A.J. Foyt (seven championships), Scott Dixon (five) and Mario Andretti (four).

“I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s harder to win a second championship than a first,” he said. “And I think in a lot of ways, that’s true. It’s very difficult to win a championship. But then to follow it up and make it happen again, it seems like a bigger mountain almost.

“I don’t know what causes that. But I just had it in my mind that if we could get this done, it’d be the achievement of the year.”

It’s especially impressive considering everything Newgarden is trying to accomplish in 2019. Besides winning a championship, he also:

–Will be getting married Oct. 26 to Welch in Nashville;

Moved from Davidson, North Carolina, (near Team Penske headquarters) to his hometown;

–Began building a house with Welch, who also brought home a rescue pup named Zoomer (or affectionately known as “Zoom” around home). “They say a year, but it’s going to be a year and a half” to finish, Welch said with a laugh. “We were in a one-bedroom apartment. I told him I don’t want to have kids in a one-bedroom apartment.”

–Underwent several oral surgeries to correct some improper dental work from childhood.

“We could have taken a couple things off the plate,” Newgarden said. “But you know what? Everything needed to be done. We wanted everything to get done, and we’re doing it all. I don’t know how the year worked out, because (racing) is the priority. You do all those things and decide, ‘Yeah, we’re going to make the plate this full.’ But something still has to take the cake at the end of the day, and the racing is what does that. And everyone knows that’s the program, and this is the most important part of the year, because you don’t get that back.

“If you have an opportunity to race and compete for a championship, when it’s there, you’ve got to take it. So I tried to keep that at the forefront of my mind all year, and I made it the priority, but it was just a little more difficult with all the other things going on.”

Josef Newgarden kisses his fiancee, Ashley Welch, after winning the NTT IndyCar Series championship (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images).

Welch, who knew nothing about racing while working as a princess cast member at Disney World when Newgarden “swept me off my feet,” provides a release valve. Though she is comfortable with being a knowledgeable member of the paddock (“I know what push to pass means. That was a big thing for me”), Welch also can help distract him from the pressure of IndyCar.

“I think it’s better to know less, because then he is able to escape at home and make home be home, and then work be work,” she said. “Because when you’re in a professional sport, you can’t really escape the work. It comes home with you whether in interviews or social media, or just obligations in general, or practice, or research. You’re always living in it, so I think it’s really smart to just have your home be home.”

In that sense, staying busy in his personal life has been good for the extremely affable Newgarden, a self-described introvert who gradually has withdrawn from social media in his late 20s.

Though he is as articulate and eloquent as any driver in auto racing, he also is happy to defer to his teammates on promotional opportunities because “I go home and am happy to be away from all of it. … I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just my introverted-ness that’s getting worse. I really try to do the best I can for the series and team and partners. It is so important to represent in the right way, but at the same time, it’s gotten harder” to be on social media in a professional setting.

“It’s all the racing,” Tina Newgarden said when asked about the source of her son’s stress. “Him building a house and all that, that’s nothing. That’s easy. (Winning a championship) is not easy. Anything else is easy.

“He got it, so I’m so proud of him. He’s one of the very lucky ones that made it here, because for every one, I’m sure there are 500 (drivers) looking in, wanting to have that. But he worked hard, and I just told him one time, ‘Don’t be so moody about it when it doesn’t go well.’ He’s still moody about it if it doesn’t go well! He’s still the same.”

That’s why the bowl of corn chowder still is waiting in her freezer.

A hearty meal for two-time champion who finally can relax.