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.”

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
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Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”