Marvin Musquin’s momentum is peaking at the right time of year

Eli Tomac Marvin Musquin
ProMotocross.com
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Arguably the rider with the most momentum heading into the final five rounds of the Luca Oil Pro Motocross championship, Marvin Musquin has won two of the last three races, has a three-race streak of podium finishes and is eyeing points leader Eli Tomac.

After winning back-to-back overalls at WW Ranch and Southwick – in heavy sand and in the most brutal weather conditions faced all year in either Supercross or Motocross – Musquin crashed on Lap 1 of Moto 1 last week at RedBud.

What he did next, defines his season.

It took two track workers to lift the bike from Musquin’s prone body. He restarted the race dead last and then climbed to seventh at the end and minimize the points’ damage.

“Unfortunately that crash cost me a lot in that first moto,” Musquin said. “I rebounded really good in the second moto and finished first, but I lost some points in the championship. So we definitely have to look ahead and focus on ourselves and try to win as many motos and overalls as possible.”

RedBud was eerily familiar.

“It’s happened a couple of times this year where I ended up on the ground early and there’s no way to catch that top six or seven guys,” Musquin said. “There is a gap where you can come back to that spot, but then the gap is too big in front of me.”

Musquin is looking at a chasm that is just as wide in the points standings, although he managed to climb to second on the leaderboard.

“At the beginning of the championship, I was not really doing good,” Musquin said. “I was fighting with myself – with the bike – and at that point I was definitely not looking for the championship. I knew I was losing points. My goal was just to feel good. I just wanted good rhythms.”

Musquin finished sixth overall at Hangtown, was fifth at Thunder Valley and sixth at High Point.

Then something clicked in Jacksonville, Fla. in the inaugural visit to WW Ranch where he won his first Moto of the season in the first race – as well as the overall.

“I was really happy with the last few races,” Musquin said. “Obviously winning two in a row and this weekend (at RedBud) I got third. But the last three races, I won a Moto each weekend, and that’s really important. I makes me happy.”

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Sitting fifth in the standings, 37 points behind Tomac after the first four weeks, Musquin had little choice except to go back to basics.

“We went back to some suspension setups that I liked from last year – at this same time of year,” Musquin said. “We race so much Supercross and don’t have much time to get prepared for outdoors. We tried some new setups and new suspensions and obviously practice and going to the races is different. I was not riding really good and feeling awesome, so we went back to stuff I knew before and started to feel more comfortable.

“We are not messing around with anything on the bike I can just focus on the riding and the training.”

More importantly, these portion of the schedule features tracks on which Musquin has already had success. Mental strength and attitude play a key role in riding well. There is also that marriage of track and rider style that makes each individual round unique.

“These are tracks that I like – more demanding and technical – tracks like High Point and Southwick that are really tough,” Musquin said. “You have to have a really good technique and I was applying my technique good and it worked really well.”

And while he did not plan to get off to a slow start, Musquin will not turn down the momentum that has finally arrived.

“Whenever the flow can come, it’s good,” he said. “It was the same as last year. I won at RedBud. I won Southwick and I was good at High Point so it was the same time of the season. I never really planned that. I try my best everytime, but it’s hard on the body after a long Supercross season.”

Tomac has not gone away. Like Musquin, he has struggled only rarely in one of the two motos each week – but never in both. Southwick marked his worst overall finish of third, but even then he podiumed in both mots with a second in Moto 1 and a third in Moto 2. As a result, Musquin has managed to shave only three points off Tomac’s total.

It will be difficult to make up 34 points in the final five rounds. But with 10 motos remaining, Musquin still has his fate in his own hands. Mathematically, he would need to win out if Tomac finished second in every moto, but neither of those two scenarios are likely to occur. If Musquin can finish ahead of Tomac in each race, his odds of winning the championship are good.

“Now I’m starting to look at the championship and making up points,” Tomac said. “Before (the last three weeks) I just wanted to be happy on the bike and happy with the riding and myself. We will have to be very strong if we want to win.

“At RedBud when I passed for the lead and was able to handle those guys, I definitely knew Tomac was somewhere in fourth or third and then I kept a eye on him because he’s got a good lead and you never know if he’s going to ride harder and make up time. It’s important to keep an eye on him because he’s won championships already.”

Last year Musquin was hot at the right time as well. After winning back-to-back at Southwick and RedBud, he swept the podium in the final five rounds. He had only one more overall win – at Unadilla in August – and was not able to catch Tomac for the championship lead.

“I really love Unadilla,” Musquin said. “I won there last year and the year before, so it’s always great to go back to where you had good results before.”

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”