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Statement made as Austin Forkner closes in on 250 points lead

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The 2019 Monster Energy Supercross season started perfectly for Austin Forkner. After winning five of the first six events and finishing third in the other race, it seemed like nothing could derail his effort of winning the 250 East championship. That is until he suffered a torn ACL at Nashville with two races remaining.

“Last year I felt like everything was going completely smooth,” Forkner told NBC Sports. “Everything was just running perfectly. I don’t know what it was about last year. After you win two or three races in row then you get confidence and you can do anything.

“It’s hard to beat anybody who has that much confidence. I have yet to go on a win streak this year. My confidence is good, but when you’re winning race after race after race, you just feel like nobody can touch you. That extra bit of confidence: the mind’s a powerful thing when you think like that.”

Forkner tried to return for East Rutherford near the end of the 2019 season, but his knee couldn’t stand up to the pressure. Losing the championship was more painful than the injury itself.

For 2020, Forkner has moved into the 250 West series and admitted to having extra pressure to perform in the opening race. Judged by his standards, Forkner felt he rode badly in the prelims. By the time the main rolled around, he found his rhythm. Last year’s near-champion challenged for the win before a mistake cost him the opportunity and sent him under the checkered flag third.

Forkner was credited with fifth after being penalized two positions for cutting the course.

On the heels of that disappointing race, Forkner needed to make a statement, which is just what he did the following week at St. Louis. He obliterated the field to score his first win of the season.

“I feel like I made the statement in St. Louis with a dominant race there,” Forkner said. “Then I had a bad race at Anaheim 2.”

Last week at Glendale, the clock reset. It was time to make another statement.

Forkner won the first two races of the first Triple Crown event of the season and became the first repeat 250 winner. An aggressive move on Christian Craig in the first race moved him to second. Then, he made short work of Alex Martin and sailed to the finish. Midway though the second race, he passed Derek Drake and won unchallenged. With one race remaining, he had two wins under his belt.

“It was just good to (run well at Glendale),” Forkner said. “It was really a statement race to myself – to have a bounce-back race. I was down in points too because I crashed at A2 and finished 17th. I was 22 points out, and then I went from 22 points out to 10 points out to the leader. … When you’re that far out of the lead, it’s like there is a big hole – and then it got cut in half, plus some. That has made everything a little easier.”

It wasn’t enough to win and make a statement to himself. Forkner needed to alert the competition. Never mind that he has only two wins in the first four races compared to a sweep of the podium last year at this juncture, he is still the rider to beat.

“The first two motos, I wanted to put it down and show those guys that I’m up there,” Forkner said. “That I’m not here to mess around; I’m here to get it done.

“It’s never good to think about not making a mistake; ‘don’t do what you did last week’. When you think like that, things happen. It’s better to just ride, and push, and try to go as fast as you can.”

The hard crash at Anaheim 2 lurked in Forkner’s memory. In that race he ran well until the incident cost him the victory.

In Glendale, he had a cushion by winning the first two motos, but another crash in back to back weeks would easily cost him the overall.

There were plenty of opportunities to crash. With only one more chance to make an impression, the start of race three was chaotic as riders vied for the holeshot.

“I didn’t get the greatest start (to race three),” Forkner said. “We were all kind of pinballing off each other the first couple of laps. It kind of spooked me a little bit I guess, so I was like ‘don’t do anything stupid. Don’t let anybody come and take you out’ and ruin my shot at the overall. Just ride my race and do what I have to do.”

Forkner found a safe place to ride and settled into a rhythm. Only then did he start to charge. Forkner knows that it is going to races like that to string victories together. There is a time to be aggressive and a time to bide one’s time.

“(It may seem like I’m more aggressive) because I’ve made more mistake this year than I did last year,” Forkner said. “A season like last season doesn’t happen very often. To win that many races. I’m not bummed about it, but I probably need to work on that a little bit, to try and get my mindset a little stronger and just start clicking off more consistent wins and everything else will come together after that.”

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).