Colt Nichols, Christian Craig share the 250 Supercross points lead heading to Indy

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At the start of the season, Colt Nichols and Christian Craig would seem to be unlikely Supercross 250 championship contenders.

Colt Nichols missed the first part of the 2020 Supercross season and finished only 11th in the points; Christian Craig rode seven races last year, finished last in two of those events and landed 15th. As a result, they were widely underrated when the season began. It did not take long for them to change those expectations.

After three rounds in 2021, the Star Racing Yamaha teammates head to Indianapolis on Jan. 30 for another three-race stand. Both riders will have red plates designating them as points leaders affixed to their bikes.

Nichols and Craig have struggled at stages of their careers. But they both also have solid championship efforts from which they can craw.

Nichols finished third in the 2019 Supercross West campaign behind Dylan Ferrandis and Adam Cianciarulo – both currently compete in the 450 class.

One has to scroll down a little further to find Craig’s best season. He finished third in 2016 behind the 450 Round 3 winner Cooper Webb and Joey Savatgy.

It may took a race or two for Nichols and Craig to come to terms with their position at the top of the leaderboard, but odds are good they will remain in contention through the Indianapolis residency.

“It’s awesome,” Craig said after finishing second in Round 3 in Houston. “This is kind of where I expect to be. I had a couple of years that were horrendous, filled with injury and terrible results. This is where I should have been a long time ago and my real speed is coming out now.”

“Last year I only raced three or four races all season, so I kind of knew I would be forgotten about,” said Round 3’s race winner Nichols. “It didn’t really bother me. I understood why people weren’t putting me at the top of the fantasy picks, but I believe in my ability and know what I can do if I can come in and get a good start.”

So far in 2021 Nichols and Craig have mirrored one another with a sweep of the podium and identical finishes of first, second and third. Craig took the early lead with his Round 1 win. Nichols got progressively stronger with a third in Round 1, a runner-up finish in Round 2 and all of that momentum culminated in Saturday night’s win.

Emotions ran high for Craig on the night of his first win since 2016. After the race, he paused, put his head on his arms and then looked skyward in relief.

 

“I’ve never been in this position before,” Craig said Saturday night. “All I’ve go to do is take it race by race and put myself out front. It felt like a normal day (of practice) with (Nichols) and I just pushing each other. He was able to get the better of me tonight. I’ll take the second-place and move on to Indy.

“After the first round I felt a little pressure going into Tuesday, but we cleared that up and I went through it and now it’s just another day. The red plate means nothing. I’m here for the long haul . We’ve got a lot of races left. It’s cool to be in this position – don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy. I feel like I’ve got a good three round start so we just have to keep building on this.”

Their stature as contenders will be aided somewhat by graduations and injuries. The winner of the last two 250 East championships, Chase Sexton moved up to 450s this year. Two-time defending 250 West champion Ferrandis also advanced.

And then there was a matter of a couple of injuries before the Houston finale Saturday night. RJ Hampshire went down in practice and missed the race with a wrist injury. He fell to 11th in the standings, 38 points behind the leader.

Austin Forkner crashed hard and ended his day in the hospital as doctors attended to his arm and collarbone. Widely expected to be the top challenger this year, he is now 30 points out of the lead in eighth. It is not an insurmountable deficit, but it will take time to overcome the loss of a full race.

Filling the spots are a couple of highly touted rookies who garnered more preseason coverage than either Nichols or Craig.

Third in the standings, Jett Lawrence is the only rider other than the Star Yamaha teammates who has scored a win. His came in Round 2.

“I knew I wasn’t going to have as much hype as a lot of these guys – for some reason I just don’t,” Nichols said after finishing second in Round 2. “I’m fine with that. I just want to go out and perform as well as I can.”

Max Vohland had a solid run going in the third Houston race before he tipped over and finished sixth.

Jo Shimoda and Michael Mosiman are also in sight of the leaders, but before they can become part of the conversation they will have to win.

“A win always gives you a little bit of a boost,” Nichols said after earning his first victory in two years. “Proves you actually can win. It’s a good feeling. But I was happy where I was: three, two in the first two races. I felt like I was riding well, just didn’t put myself in a great position at the start of the first few races.”

Momentum is a powerful force in Supercross. And for now it rests with one team.

“We’ll be sharing the red plate, which is kind of cool for the team going into Indy,” Nichols concluded.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)