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Rain shakes up Motocross, Supercross kickoffs

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When rain began to fall on the Hangtown Classic to kick off the 2019 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship season, there was a strong sense of déjà vu.

Rain soaked January’s Monster Energy Supercross season opener in Anaheim as well, and provided a lineup that at the time seemed to have some surprise contenders.

Justin Barcia won that race, denying second-place Ken Roczen an opportunity to snap his long winless streak.

Barcia earned only one more top-5 during the season. Roczen would earn three more runner-up finishes, but was forced to a winless season.

A privateer at the time, Dean Wilson finished fourth at Anaheim I, but scored only three more top-5s before getting sidelined to injury following the Denver race.

No one expected what they would eventually see from fifth-place finisher Cooper Webb, who went on to dominate the Supercross season on his way to the championship. Surprise finish aside, three of the top-5 in that race finished the season within the top-5 in points.

While Roczen finishing up front at Hangtown is not entirely surprising – he did, after all, begin the Supercross season with nine consecutive top-fives – he had come close to winning without success on so many occasions since returning from a pair of injuries, that many questioned when he would actually break back into Victory Lane.

After Roczen announced he was dealing with an unknown health issue that drained his energy and caused him to finish outside the top five in six of the last eight Supercross rounds, a heavy track is not where most expected him to excel.

One of the biggest shake ups last week may have come in what didn’t happen instead of what did. Eli Tomac was a heavy favorite entering the race, having won the last two Hangtown Classics on his way to dominating the 2017 and 2018 Motocross seasons. A bad start mired Tomac deep in the pack, but with 30 minutes on the clock, he should have been able to ride back to the front. Instead, he finished fourth and barely grabbed that position from Zach Osborne with time off the clock.

Tomac needed the mud to give him the advantage. Moto 1 began on a dry track that was only starting to get heavy. The track was sloppy for Moto 2 with ruts that could swamp a bike, and that was when Tomac’s conditioning took over.

The rain shook up the lineup throughout the field. While the top five from Moto 1 all finished sixth or better in Moto 2, Roczen was the only rider who stood on the podium twice.

What remains to be seen is just how prophetic the remainder of the top-5 will be. Jason Anderson’s third overall marked his return to racing after getting sidelined before Supercross Round 3 in Oakland.

Fourth-place Osborne missed the first six rounds of Supercross and did not score a top-5 finish until Nashville with three races remaining. He ended the year with three top-5s in the last four rounds.

Meanwhile, who was lurking in fifth in the Hangtown Classic? Webb – in exactly the same spot he started the Supercross season.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

Road to Indy
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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter