In his third year on a 450 and after 35 senior division starts, Aaron Plessinger stood on the podium for the first time in Round 9 of the 2021 Supercross season at Daytona International Speedway.
With a contagious smile, Plessinger told NBCSN’s Will Christien, “Me and the team, we’ve been working hard. The last two years have been tough. To come up here and get up on this podium means a lot to me. I can’t thank them enough. … It’ll come easier now.”
His joy was tinged with palpable signs of relief.
Two years ago, Daytona exacted a heavy price from the rider. Plessinger was finding his rhythm in the 450 class after an impressive career in 250s. He had just scored a career-best finish of fifth at Atlanta the week prior – his first top-five in 450 Supercross action.
And Plessinger was making a name for himself as a rider who likes difficult tracks. While he failed to crack the top five in the first eight races of 2019, he came close three times with sixth-place finishes in the opening round at Anaheim and again at San Diego – both were tough, muddy races.
Daytona was just a little too tough that day. Five laps into the race, Plessinger had a hard crash in a rhythm section and limped off the track. A shattered heel kept him off the bike for the remainder of the season.
“I’ve had a rough time here,” Plessinger said. “My first year, I had the flu. My second year here I shattered my heel. Last year was alright.
“I was definitely due one. I got it done tonight and couldn’t be more happy.”
Without a podium finish, Plessinger has not garnered a lot of attention in the first half of the 2021 Supercross season. It can be difficult to grab headlines with only one top-five. Plessinger finished fifth in the second race of the Indianapolis residency, tying that career-best first earned in his rookie season at Atlanta.
But Plessinger has been in the front half of the field almost every week.
In the first eight rounds this year, he scored six top-10s and an 11th. His only stumble came in Round 2 at Houston. Since then, he has averaged a finish of about eighth. But there has been an undercurrent running through the Star Racing Yamaha team: hard work and experimentation.
“You’re going to see this more often,” Plessinger said after Daytona in the postrace press conference. “We’ve been putting in the work. We’ve been testing. We’ve been trying things left and right.
“I’ve been kind of the guinea pig with it, which I appreciate. I love trying new things, especially if they work.”
While the 450 class was not overly kind before Daytona, Plessinger’s confidence is well-placed based on his 250 career. Just prior to moving up a class in 2019, he had a career season with four wins in the 2018 250 West division and half a dozen wins in Lucas Oil Motocross competition.
“I’m going to keep this going and hopefully click off some podiums in the next few weeks.”