There is a reason riders don’t count the points until the race is over. Ken Roczen earned the most with his flag-to-flag win in Round 9 of the 2020 season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. And with his third win of the season, Roczen leaves Georgia with the red plate.
“Every time I win, I get happier and happier,” Roczen said on NBCSN after the race. “Each win gets more fun and more addicting.”
In the last three races, Roczen has finished third, second, and first.
With the win, he is tied with Eli Tomac atop the standings with 200 points. Tomac finished fourth in the race, which is a minor miracle in its own right.
While Roczen grabbed the holeshot, Tomac got a bad start. In heavy traffic, Tomac and Justin ‘Bam Bam’ Barcia banged into one another, throwing both off their rhythms.
Earlier this week, Barcia told NBCSports.com his plan for the race was to attack. And that is just what he did. Refusing to give ground when the two banged bars, Barcia came out the victor in that battle and then attacked the course.
“I made a good clean pass on (Tomac), and then he pounded into me,” Barcia said. “Got me pretty good. I was not happy with that racing. But I put that aside. What a great race; charged through the pack.”
Barcia finished second and put himself right back in the points battle. It is his first podium since he finished second at St. Louis in Week 2.
Barcia is third in the standings, 23 points behind the leaders.
Tomac got mired in traffic, and when he tried to make an aggressive pass on Blake Baggett, both riders went down hard. Tomac fell to 14th and lost more than 20 seconds. He was also in jeopardy of losing the red plate. In typical Tomac fashion, he charged through the field and finished fourth. At the checkers, one could have thrown a blanket over third through fifth.
Reflecting on the contact with Barcia that contributed to his slow start, Tomac said: “It was just battling. If I get bumped, I’m going to bump back. That’s just the way it is. Mine might have been a little bit more of a hit, but really I’m just giving it back.”
Battling back was the theme of the night.
Last week Cooper Webb crashed hard in the dragon’s back. Riding hurt is not new for Supercross stars, but it was impressive that Webb was in the Atlanta race after suffering a severe hematoma to his back.
“That was probably the hardest race I’ve ever had,” Webb said afterward. “I just put my head down and did the best I could. I got a few gifts from the guys up front, but man, it was painful.”
Webb took the final spot on the podium in third.
Martin Davalos was set to earn his first podium until he was caught by the determined and hard-charging Webb and Tomac. They caught him on the final lap and blazed past, but Davalos scored his first career top-five.
The 250 East season started with intensity.
Hard riding by RJ Hampshire created some hard feelings in the first two races, but the storyline that developed after Tampa and Dallas was how evenly matched last year’s champion Chase Sexton is with Shane McElrath.
They entered the race with red plates affixed to both of their bikes as co-leaders in the standings. But at Atlanta, Hampshire made certain everyone remembers he is in the battle. He entered the race eight points out of first and grabbed the holeshot.
The three title contenders got a great start. Hampshire was best among them, but he could not get away from Sexton.
Halfway through the race, Sexton had a decision to make. A small bobble by Hampshire allowed him to pounce – and he was only the least bit reluctant to make some contact as he came through.
“It was really hard to pass out there,” Sexton said on NBCSN after the race. “The track was pretty much one line. … RJ was riding good. He wasn’t really making mistakes. … I decided I just have to make this pass, saw him case that triple a little bit and I just dove to the inside. I didn’t want to hit him, but he committed to the corner and I was there.”
Hampshire was gracious about the contact during the pass for the lead, acknowledging that aggression is part of the sport.
His focus was on the run, however; not any incidental contact.
“Each week we’re going to continue to get better,” Hampshire said. “That was a good glimpse. We got the holeshot. I felt good; got a good flow.”
McElrath lost five points to Sexton but held onto second in the points. He stood on the podium, but he was not happy with the result.
“It was a rough Main altogether,” McElrath said. “I actually locked bikes with RJ going into the first corner and it bent my clutch a bit. I struggled to find a flow that time.”
Jordon Smith finished fourth.
Rookie Jo Shimoda impressed the field with his first top-five finish in his career. His previous best was a pair of 10ths at Tampa and Dallas last week.
Heat 1: Ken Roczen lost ground to Tomac during the past two weeks. He needed to establish his position as a contender and did so with his sixth heat win of the season. “The heat race really sets the tone for the night,” Roczen said from the top of the podium. “We’ve been hammering those out.”… Jason Anderson settled into second early. He finished two seconds behind Roczen and 1.6 seconds ahead of Justin Brayton. … Third-place Brayton was happy to get out of this heat without eating some dirt. Last week he crashed multiple times in the Triple Crown. … Justin Barcia told NBC this week that he needed to improve his starts. He came out of the gates strong and was riding fourth at the end of the first lap. … Aaron Plessinger rounded out the top five. … The final transfer position came down to a heated battle by Tyler Bowers and Kyle Cunningham. Bowers finished ninth, sending Cunningham to the LCQ. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: After Roczen handily won the first heat, Eli Tomac had to respond. He did with an 8.8-second win over Justin Hill. … Cooper Webb rides hurt after landing hard on his back last week at Arlington. He took his bruised body past Martin Davalos as time ran off the clock to finish third. … Davalos held on to finish fourth with Dean Wilson rounding out the top five. … Chad Reed finished eighth and will make his 257th start in the 450 class. … Kyle Chisholm finished ninth and took the final transfer spot. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: James Weeks scooted out to an early lead and never gave it up in route to his first LCQ victory. … HEP Suzuki teammate Kyle Cunningham and Adam Enticknap join Ryan Breece in the Main. Cunningham finished second. … Enticknap qualified for his second Main of the season. He finished 21st at Tampa. Earlier this season, he told NBC of his desire to pave the way for the Other 19 who don’t always qualify for the big show. … Daniel Herrlein took the final transfer by one second over Jared Lesher. | LCQ Results
Heat 1: Jeremy Martin earned the hole shot as a battle developed behind him for second. He ran a relaxed race and finished comfortably ahead of Shane McElrath for his first heat win of 2020. … Returning from a broken back, Pierce Brown impressed the field. He ran in second for the majority of the race. McElrath passed him with a little more than a minute remaining. … Enzo Lopes and Jo Shimoda rounded out the top five. … Curren Thurman took the last transfer spot in ninth. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: It was a grudge match between Chase Sexton and RJ Hampshire after a an aggressive pass last week at Arlington put Sexton on the ground. This time, Sexton held the advantage. He made an aggressive but clean pass on Hampshire halfway through the event. It is Sexton’s second heat win of the season. … Hampshire grabbed the hole shot. After getting passed by Sexton he was under fire from Jordon Smith. They swapped positions multiple times with Smith ultimately taking second. … Hampshire finished third, with Nick Gaines in fourth and Garrett Marchbanks rounding out the top five. … Jalek Swoll grabbed the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Eighteen-year-old Grant Harlan ran an easy pace to win the LCQ over Lance Kobusch. … Cedric Soubeyras finished third. … It was a little more dramatic for Jimmy Decotis. He started in sixth after bending his handlebar in his heat. It took half of the race to catch and pass Jeremy Hand for the final transfer position into the Main. | LCQ Results
Next race: March 7, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
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