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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Newgarden looks to continue streak of success at Road America

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INDYCAR Photo
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – There are several drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series whose skill sets seem to be a perfect match for the mammoth race course at Road America. Josef Newgarden is one of those drivers.

In the three years since IndyCar’s return to the 4.014-mile, 14-turn road course located in this lakeside resort region of Wisconsin, Newgarden has been a central part of the storyline.

In 2016, when he was driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, Newgarden was involved in a massive crash at Texas Motor Speedway with Conor Daly, suffering a broken hand and a broken clavicle. He had JR Hildebrand on standby to drive his car at Road America on Friday, but after he was cleared to return to the cockpit, Newgarden began his comeback on Saturday.

He was on a fast lap in his qualification group, but went into the Carousel portion of the course too fast and ended up qualifying 20th. Despite his injuries, Newgarden battled back to an eighth-place finish.

In 2017, his first season with Team Penske and a year when he would go on to win the NTT IndyCar Series championship, Newgarden started third and led 13 laps.

That was before a shootout with leading challenger Scott Dixon on a Lap 31 restart. Dixon hit the throttle at the green flag, raced Newgarden down the long front straight, and dove to the inside of Turn 1 to make what proved to be the race-winning pass.

Newgarden and Team Penske learned a valuable lesson, and made sure it wouldn’t happen again in 2018. Newgarden won the pole and led 53 laps in the 55-lap contest before fending off a strong challenge from Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the race.

Newgarden returns as the NTT IndyCar Series points leader and kicks off the second half of the season in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America (Sunday, Noon ET on NBC).

He comes off his third win of the season on June 8 at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. Road America, one of the classic road courses in the world, delivers a vastly different style of racing. But it does help to have some momentum on your side.

“Yes. I think we’ve had good momentum throughout the year,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “We’ve had some bobbles that can shake that, but we’ve been good at not letting a bobble shake our confidence. I feel really good about where we are at. This win at Texas was a good time to have it with everyone going into the break feeling pretty good about things and having a weekend off.

“We just need to pick back up now. We can’t slow down. It’s the second-half push for the championship. We have to stay on it now to the finish.”

There are nine races completed in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, which leaves eight races remaining in the fight for the title. Newgarden has a 25-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport and a 48-point lead over Team Penske teammate and Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.

The second half begins in the “Land of Bratwurst,” just a few miles from Johnsonville, Wisconsin, and at a track that thoroughly earns the reputation as “America’s National Monument of Road Courses.”

“I’m a big fan of Road America,” Newgarden said. “It’s one of our last ‘old school’ tracks in the world. It’s an ultimate IndyCar track. It has a little bit of everything. It’s tantalizing. If you make a mistake around Road America it penalizes you. I think drivers like that. You don’t want it easy. You don’t want a ton of runoff. It has great high-speed sections. Very classic corners. It’s very high commitment brake zones, quick, long straights so an Indy car can open its legs up a lot. It’s really what you think of when you go to a high-speed, IndyCar road course. And, it’s a beautiful backdrop. Elkhart Lake is a gorgeous part of the country, especially in the summer time when we go there.

“It’s a classic facility. One of my favorite tracks in the world.”

Newgarden also has high-praise for the Wisconsin race fans, who come out in the tens of thousands and start camping on Thursday and stay through the end of Sunday’s race, which regularly draws over 50,000 fans.

“There is tremendous support there,” Newgarden said. “The place seems full on race day. It adds to the ambience of the track. It’s pretty, even when nobody is there, but when you feel it up with all the people and the campers, it takes it to a different level. They really do come out and support it. They are very knowledgeable people to our series and what is going on. I think the drivers appreciate that. They know what is going on all year.”

From a driver’s standpoint, this race is fairly straightforward, strategy-wise. According to Newgarden, the variance of strategy depends on who can go the longest on one tank of fuel. The normal fuel window is between Laps 11-15. If a driver dives into the pits early, then he’s committed to racing as hard as possible to build up a gap on the field in order to get in and out of the pits before the other drivers on a normal pit stop strategy.

“Fuel matters there and the longer you can run on a stint, it seems to help you. That is where you see the strategy difference,” Newgarden explained. “Overall, the general layout of pit stops is pretty straightforward in that race. Unless an oddball yellow comes out, if you are running out front, that is the strategy you can going to run.

“We have conversations before the race what we are trying to do. There are different points where you need to be pushing and are flat-out and not worried about fuel and other points where you need to be saving as much as you can. There is always a fine-line. You are generally always trying to save some fuel by going as fast as possible, which is a very conflicting thought process, but that’s what we are always trying to do.

“It really depends on how the race flows. At Road America, when the yellows fall, that will dictate what we are doing, and I will get feedback from the pit. It’s all relative. It depends on whether I’m in the front or in the back. If I’m up front and the yellow falls at a weird time, they will let me know what other people are doing and if that changes our game. If it does, then I will adjust what I’m doing.

“It’s always a moving target, but you try to plan this stuff out. If it’s a green race all the way through, here is the plan and if the yellows fly, then this is what we are going to do. We try to plan all of that out before the race starts and stuff starts happening, you know how to react.”

Newgarden has learned from his mistakes at Road America and that is one reason why he is once again a major threat to win this race. Despite his broken hand and broken clavicle in 2016, his eighth-place finish was in many ways a victory.

“It was a very good weekend in a lot of ways,” Newgarden recalled. “Just getting back out on the track and not lose ground in the championship as very important to me. I was very satisfied we were able to do that. It took a lot of support and help, and everyone pitched in to get it done. I was a little bit disappointed. I think we had a much faster car than eighth place in 2016. I made a mistake in qualifying. I pushed wide in the Carousel and it put us 20th. We could have probably started in the top five in that race and had a shot at the podium and maybe a win there. If anything, I was disappointed at where we qualified and where there that put us.

“But it was a great recovery. It was a great weekend overall. Getting a top-10 was really a win in a lot of ways. I think there was more to be had that weekend, though.”

In 2017, he was ready to challenge for the victory, but was a victim of bad timing.

“We got nipped by that yellow at the wrong point,” Newgarden explained. “We were on the wrong tire. Right as we came out of the pits on the Black tires, Scott came out on new Reds. It was a yellow when we didn’t need it. To get the tires up to temperature for the restart was really our challenge in that race. Ultimately, it did us in, in Turn 1. We didn’t get a great launch off the final corner, Scott dragged alongside and completely the pass in Turn 1.

“We didn’t make that mistake last year, tire-wise, when the yellow came out at the end of the race and had a shootout.”

His win last year gave off the image of having the field under his control. But the driver pointed out it wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“That was actually a very tough drive,” Newgarden recalled. “I wish that drive was a lot easier than it was, but it was very difficult to keep Ryan Hunter-Reay behind us last year. He was really the guy hounding us the whole race and had a lot of pace, probably more pace than us in different parts of that race. Trying to keep him at bay and doing what we needed to do to get in the right window, it was not an easy drive. If it was an easy drive, we would have sprinted off into the distance a little more. We really had to work hard to hit our windows and make sure Ryan stayed behind us.

“It was a tough day; it was a long day. We had to do a lot or work to run that whole race. We had a very consistent race car. It was very predictable and easy to drive. I had the speed and the car underneath me so that I could manage the situation.”

The ability to manage the situation is a great quality to have for any driver in the NTT IndyCar Series. In Newgarden’s case, it may be the key ingredient to winning a second IndyCar championship.