Eli Tomac laughed with the quiet confidence of someone who knew the question was legitimate but hardly was worried about the answer.
After two consecutive poor starts in main events at Rice-Eccles Stadium, how could he improve out of the gate in Sunday’s season finale (3-4 p.m. NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. NBC).
“At this point, I might as well let everyone go and then roll,” Tomac joked. “I don’t know. Just try to be a little bit better. I’m trying to protect that inside, but that hasn’t been working the past two rounds. Just got to be a little bit better.”
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With a 24-point lead on Cooper Webb entering Sunday’s Round 17, Tomac actually could be much worse and still win his first 450 championship.
But the past two rounds have shown the likelihood is that even if he starts poorly again, it’ll be little matter. His No. 3 Kawasaki sliced through traffic quickly for a third place in Round 15 a week ago.
He was even better Wednesday in Round 16. Tomac fell to dead last into the first corner but gained 10 spots in the first lap and rallied to finish second, briefly seeming to be a threat to end Webb’s Wednesday’s winning streak.
“The first turn was just a joke,” Tomac said Wednesday after the race. “I was probably the last guy on the inside. I went defensive and that did not work in that first turn. Just really had to pick my way through the pack. Made a good move around second or third turn and then went to work. I felt I could make easier passes compared to the previous track.”
It seems the only weakness in Tomac’s game, and he acknowledges the starts can be “nerve-wracking,” particularly with Webb riding nearly as well on a streak of eight podiums.
“When you’re buried, so many things can happen out of your own power,” Tomac said. “That’s what’s sketchy about starting in the back. It’s a situation I don’t want to put myself in, but I was able to make passes quicker compared to (Round 15).”
Webb also has shown a propensity for getting faster as the race progresses, turning his fastest lap on Lap 25 of 29 with Tomac in pursuit Wednesday.
But the defending series champion wasn’t overly optimistic about beating Tomac in the finale.
“For sure he’s got a nice points lead but wanted to make it to (the finale) and just see if there’s any hope,” said Webb, who is six points ahead of Ken Roczen. “To at least take it to Sunday was the motivation. And it’s really tight with me and Kenny on second in the series. There’s always motivation; never a lack for me.”
Nor is there for Tomac, who is on the cusp of a title that has eluded him in season that might have been better than this one. He had nine victories in 2017 and finished second in points, eight victories in 2018 and finished third and six victories last year and finished second.
In 2020, he has seven victories but also 15 consecutive top fives. He hasn’t finished outside the top four since a seventh in the season opener.
“Just consistency in general,” Tomac said about his title bid. “I’ve always had these weird two races, or three races. That’s really hit. I’m just feeling more level-headed. There’s less up and down emotions this year. Just on that same level the whole time.
“This year I’m ready from the get-go. That’s been big for me is I know I can make it the distance.”