Ken Roczen wins St. Louis after three-year wait

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After three years of hardship, Ken Roczen finally stood on the top of the podium in a Monster Energy Supercross race. He took the lead early and had to manage his emotions in what may have been the longest race of his career.

Ken Roczen last won a Monster Energy Supercross race January 14, 2017 when he paced the field at San Diego to win his second race of the season in as many weeks. In the next round, things would go disastrously wrong at Anaheim 2 and Roczen embarked on a long road back to the top.

With an almost five-second margin over Justin Barcia, Roczen’s win should not have been in question.

But it was.

Since early in 2017, Roczen has finished second in the Supercross series six times – including the 2019 season-opener at Anaheim and in a photo finish at Arlington last year when he had to look at the scoring pilon before he knew he’d lost.

At St. Louis, Roczen finally scored his 12th career Supercross win.

“We came up with a plan and it seems like the plan turned out really well for tonight,” Roczen said. “It was a long race. You see the timer go down; it’s three minutes to go, but it’s like five laps. I’ve messed it up plenty of times in the past, but I put my head down the entire race.”

For second-place Barcia, it seemed like a win. Coming off last week’s victory at Anaheim 1, he was under pressure to maintain his momentum. He also won the opener in 2019, but faded quickly and was not a factor in the championship hunt. With his second podium of the season, Barcia has a six-point lead over Roczen with Adam Cianciarulo 10 points back.

Jason Anderson took the final spot on the podium as he looks to defend his 2018 championship. Injury last year kept him from battling for the top spot.

Roczen needed his strong run to erase the memory of last week’s sub-fifth-place finish. Another rider who could not afford to have a bad run was Eli Tomac. Last week a terrible start preceded a disappointing finish.

Once again, Tomac got off to a bad start, but this time he was able to come through the field and finish fourth. Tomac was meticulous in his passes, which was something missing from Anaheim 1. He had to be after trailing the leader by more than 10 seconds in eighth with 16 minutes remaining on the clock.

Zach Osborne rounded out the top five – earning the position on the final lap when Cianciarulo fell while running fourth.

Cianciarulo is still learning how to manage the longer 450 races. He was battling for second early in the race until he rubbed the Tuff Blox while trying to pass Osborne. That dropped him to sixth, but he had made up two of those spots before falling on the white flag lap.

Last week Roczen and Tomac struggled. This week it was Cooper Webb’s turn. He managed only a 12th-place finish and fell to seventh in the points.

Austin Forkner earned redemption with his St. Louis win. Feld Entertainment Inc.

In the 250 class, it was the same song, second verse. But this time it was Austin Forkner singing loudest. After blowing a hefty lead and handing the win to Justin Cooper in Anaheim 1, Forkner was dropped to fifth in the final rundown for intentionally cutting the track. He owned up to his mistake. But that was not enough to get the sour note out of his head.

In the 250 Main at St. Louis, Forkner took the lead early and managed his advantage, first over the super rookie Jett Lawrence and later over the rider who beat him last week Cooper.

For Forkner, it completed a comeback from injury as he earned him first win since Indy last year. Better still, it came on his home town track.

“I could hear these fans and I started to think about it when I heard you guys cheering: I’m in first and I’ve got a shot at winning this thing,” Forkner told NBCSN after the race. Forkner’s win allowed him to close to within five points of Cooper – a manageable deficit entering Round 3 at Anaheim next week.

Cooper was happy to retain the points’ lead and he vowed to hold onto it with both hands.

While he would have preferred to win, finishing second was an important lesson in how to manage the season.

“Last week I had it pretty easy,” Cooper said. “I was out front, just clicking off my laps. There was definitely a lot to learn this week – definitely a lot of passing. But it’s good for me to put myself on those positions.

“I didn’t push hard enough in the middle part of the race. I felt like I didn’t leave it all out there, but it was a smart ride overall.”

Brandon Hartranft scored his first career podium in third.

Alex Martin finished fourth.

After a brief trip to the pits with 2:20 remaining on the clock while running in the third position, Lawrence was forced to charge back through the pack. The teenage phenom landed fifth on the chart.

It was a disastrous night for Dylan Ferrandis. After narrowly avoiding disaster in his heat, he crashed hard in the opening laps with Michael Mosiman.

Moisiman was hit by Martin and got pushed sideway into Ferrandis.

Ferrandis lost a lap and could only salvage a 12th-place finish at the checkers. It was Ferrandis’ worst 250 finish since an East division race in Atlanta in March 2018.

450s

Heat 1: Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac got off to a slow start last week in the Main with results outside the top five. For two of the challengers for last year’s championship, the battle started in Heat 1 at St. Louis. Roczen and Tomac easily advanced with a 1-2 finish over Malcolm Stewart. Cooper Webb kept the pressure on with his fourth-place finish. Vince Friese earned the holeshot and led early, but faded to seventh. Chris Blose took the final transfer spot, sending Chad Reed to the LCQ. Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Last week Adam Cianciarulo came up a few minutes short of winning in his 450 debut. A heat win won’t make up for that, but it shows how well he is able to put the past behind him. He passed Zach Osborne in the closing laps. Last week’s overall winner Justin Barcia had to battle back from a bad start that saw him ninth at the one minute mark. He climbed to third. Justin Bogle got the holeshot and seemed to have everything in hand. He had a big off at the two minute, 30 second mark and dropped out of the top 10. Barcia was able to climb back into ninth at the end of the race and took the final transfer over Dylan Merriam. Heat 2 Results

“It’s good for me this early in my 450 career to have races like that,” Cianciarulo said after Heat 2. “At the beginning I was riding so bad and to have to pull it together mentally and focus on what I did.”

LCQ: Justin Brayton experienced mechanical problems in his heat and the team was forced to make major repairs. With the worst gate pick, he nevertheless got a good start and managed to pass for the lead at the midway point. Kyle Cunningham finished second. Chad Reed didn’t want to advance through the LCQ, but after narrowly missing the mark in Heat 1, that was where he found himself. Reed led early, but did not risk his ride when he was passed by Brayton. Alex Ray took the final transfer spot in fourth. | LCQ Results

250s

Heat 1: Christian Craig assumed an early lead and rode to an easy win in Heat 1 over Michael Mosiman. “It’s good to get a heat race win; you get a little more confidence going into the Main,” Craig said on NBCSN after the race. It wasn’t nearly as easy for the rider on the bottom step of the podium. After getting clipped in the opening lap of the race and narrowly avoiding trouble a second time, last week’s overall winner Justin Cooper sliced through the field to take third. The final transfer spot was a heated contest with Killian Auberson and Derek Kelley narrowly edging Aaron Tanti for the ninth position. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Austin Forkner needed to make an aggressive pass on Mitchell Oldenburg in the middle of Heat 2 to find a little redemption of last week’s penalty incurred in the Main. Once in the lead, he refused to look back to take the win over Oldenburg. Alex Martin took the final spot on the podium. Dylan Ferrandis got off to a slow start and was mired in ninth at the start of the race. Ferrandis locked up his brakes, faded right on the first turn and pushed two other riders off course. He charged back through the field to take fourth at the checkers. The highlight reel was added to by Jett Lawrence and Taiki Koga when they both crashed hard in the middle of the race. Koga retired, but Lawrence took the final transfer spot on the last lap. | Heat 1 Results

LCQ: Derek Drake had a drama free race, which was exactly what he needed after crashing on Lap 1 of Heat 1. He cruised to a win of more than 10 seconds over Aaron Tanti. Mitchell Falk and Ludovic Macler rounded out the transfer positions. LCQ Results

Click here for 450 Overall Results | Season Points
Click here for 250 Overall Results | Season Points

Next race: January 18, Anaheim 2

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994