Eli Tomac wins, extends points lead at Supercross’ return in Salt Lake

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Eli Tomac took the lead from Blake Baggett just past the halfway mark and cruised to victory in the 450 main event Sunday in the return of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series.

Tomac won by 3.771 seconds over Cooper Webb in the first of seven consecutive rounds to conclude the postponed 2020 season at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The races are being held without fans because of restrictions from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“That was huge for us,” Webb told NBC after his sixth victory this season. “It’s so cool to get to go back racing at Salt Lake City and get back to riding and racing and doing what we know. Overall, awesome day there.

POINTS, RESULTS: Click here to see where everyone finished in Round 11

SILVER LININGSEli Tomac finds positives in 2020 interruption

“The track got really slick at the end. Lots of dust flying, lots of hunting for traction. Was a little slow early on. Got to improve on that next time. Especially if these guys up their games. Overall, really good day for points.”

With six races remaining in the season Tomac increased his lead to eight points over Ken Roczen, who held on for third despite nearly wiping out on the tuff blocks entering the final lap. The Honda rider saved it and nursed it home without losing any more points to Tomac.

“I grabbed a good start, got bumped around and lost some spots there,” Roczen said. “I was sliding out there, obviously, the track is really blowing out. I almos had a big, big (crash) getting crossed over there, jumped into tuff blocks. Pretty much saw myself down, but I saved it.

“So after that, I just cruised the last lap, get in third, regroup and come back.”

Both Tomac and Webb had a scare early in the race when Adam Cianciarulo went down on the second lap in front of them. Tomac went over Cianciarulo’s bike, and Webb appeared to make contact with the rider.

A few minutes later, Tomac passed Roczen for fourth and set his sights on Baggett, who took the holeshot. He led for the first eight minutes and then yielded the lead for good to Tomac.

“(Tomac) got around Blake and really laid some good laps,” said Cooper, who remained third in the standings, 32 points behind Tomac. “During the middle, I lost speed a little bit and there at the end, I really was riding hard and missed the rhythm and that cost me.

“It was crazy. I hope AC’s OK. He went down really hard and didn’t have anywhere to go. It’s good to be back racing. It’s awesome to be able to do what we love.”

In the 250 East main event, Shane McElrath beat points leader Chase Sexton by 2.949 seconds. McElreath trails Sexon by seven points in the championship standings.

“This is what we worked to do,” McElrath told NBC. “We had a big learning curve the first four rounds. Our results don’t show the progress we made. Now I’ve got to spend another 85 days since our last race on this bike and working with the team and making changes. It’s been a growing time mentally, physically and spiritually.”

After 22 laps, only four of 22 riders finished on the lead lap, and Sexton said lapped traffic was a factor.

“I don’t think I was off the pace,” Sexton told NBC. “I caught him. But lappers are so bad. They make a 40-second track, and we’re (lapping) fifth-place guys. It was tough, I felt I was better but couldn’t make it happen.”

FIVE THINGS TO WATCHBurning issues as Supercross restarts

NEXT: After Sunday’s opener, here are the details for the remaining six rounds:

  • 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).

‘His Mona Lisa’: Roger Penske adds his golden touch to iconic Indy

AP Photo/Jenna Fryer

INDIANAPOLIS — The purists can relax: Roger Penske did not remove troughs from the men’s bathrooms at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He replaced them, of course, with the shiniest, sleekest basins on the urinal market, thus preserving one of the speedway’s treasured if unusual features while still insisting every inch of the facility be brought up to Penske code. It’s been six months since Penske completed his purchase of the 111-year-old national landmark, a fixer-upper that he already has lavished with some $15 million worth of improvements.

“It’s like you just bought a Ferrari,” said Penske, “but it was rained on.”

Penske gave The Associated Press a two-hour tour of the speedway this week, showing off with dizzying detail the new landscaping, paved lots, planted trees, picnic tables, widened pedestrian paths, hand dryers in every bathroom, improved sight lines, pressure-washed buildings, freshly painted signs and LED monitors everywhere.

There is not a lone pièce de résistance; Penske is equally proud of every change, including a 104-by-20-foot video board on the Pagoda, a lift in the winner’s circle to raise the winning car and, of course. those old-school troughs.

Two days before the speedway opened for a historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader race weekend, the 83-year-old Penske was pushing a car onto the lift as he quadruple-checked its functionality. He went through another dry run of the lift, ensuring it lined up perfectly for postrace celebrations and alerting an employee to some manufacturer stickers he wanted removed lest the public seem anything short of Penske perfect.

“This is his life’s work,” said Chip Ganassi, a longtime rival car owner. “The way he talks about the place, the energy in his voice over every element. This is his Mona Lisa.”

A car drives past the 16th Street entrance to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has been refurbished by Roger Penske over the past six months (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

Penske, for the record, is a billionaire transportation titan with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

He has powerhouse teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar, but the latter is now even more of a beloved project. When Tony George approached him last September to inform him the Hulman family was looking to sell the famous speedway, Penske pounced on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The deal was finalized in six weeks and he got the keys – he literally has a set of keys that opens doors inside the speedway – the first week of January. He quickly was climbing through the grandstands in a freezing Indiana rain as he personally inspected his sprawling new property, one of the most famous sports venues in history.

Penske is meticulous and every element of his operations reflects an immaculate and organized culture. When “The Captain” talks about sprucing up the speedway, he often references Augusta National, home of the Masters and a gold standard among golf tournaments in terms of resources, presentation and hospitality.

It is Penske’s expectation that fans will view Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the same level of admiration, awe and respect that Augusta receives.

“It’s my job. I’m not looking for a gold star or a blue ribbon, I just want to be sure the guests, the fans that come, ultimately when they can come, will have the experience that I hope they will,” Penske said. “I want to take Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the next level.”

He envisions three IndyCar races a season, a return of Formula One, a crown jewel sports car race and an improved NASCAR weekend that potentially could see the Cup Series shift to the road course and away from the 2.5-mile oval.

The updated rear facade of the Pagoda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

The platform above the new Pagoda video board is wide enough to fit 18 Indy cars – or a musical act for a concert in the plaza. The monitor itself could be used for a movie night, and Penske said eventually IndyCar races in other cities will be aired on the screen for watch parties.

He knows off the top of his head that 25,000 linear square feet of fencing – almost two laps around the oval – has been erected on the grounds. Penske said 4,000 cans of paint and counting have been used and can point out areas that have been updated. He marvels at the 400,000 square feet of asphalt that has been paved, particularly in lots once notorious for being muddy messes.

He can spot the new trees on the property and notes that 3 acres of sod were put down. Penske marveled at the immaculate grounds of the Brickyard Crossing golf course on the property, so he put the groundskeeper in charge of the entire place.

They temporarily closed the Crossing so energy could be focused on the rest of the grounds in time for this weekend’s race. Ganassi said as he flew into Indy, the green grass was what most struck him from his aerial view.

The place looks brand new and yet the work won’t stop any time soon.

Penske hopes to host 175,000 fans – half of capacity – for the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23, and he wants them to be wowed. There will be no fans this weekend, and even race teams are highly restricted on where they can go.

Mark Miles, the day-to-day head of the speedway, recalled that Penske executive Tim Cindric said “the place looks 25 years younger,” which Miles said is an understatement.

“It’s not just fresher and younger. There are areas that are just better,” Miles said. “The scale of the improvements, the comprehensiveness of the improvements, is remarkable. But the one thing that is really going to blow people away is the new big board on the back of the Pagoda. The mayor’s office downtown can hear the audio system on that. We’re looking forward to being able to show these things off.”

A new sign at Indianapolis Motor Speedway greets visitors as they enter the north entrance (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).