Ken Roczen took the early lead in Monster Energy Supercross Round 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and led every lap on the way to his fourth win of the 2021 season Tuesday. By winning, he trimmed more than a third off points leader Cooper Webb’s advantage.
Heading into Saturday’s Atlanta finale, Roczen trails Webb by 13 points. His battle is not won, but it is much more manageable than is was at the start of the night.
“This sport is fricken’ hard,” Roczen said in the postrace news conference. “There’s just different variables all the time. It can be track. It can be bike. And we kind of threw a lot at me this round and tried to make some changes in all three practices and stuck something that was good and better, but it’s unproven until you race it.”
Roczen was on a mission Tuesday night.
After struggling badly Saturday in the first of three Atlanta races, Roczen barely cracked the top 10. Worse still, his ninth-place finish came on a night when the rider third in the points, Eli Tomac won and the points’ leader Cooper Webb stood on the podium for the eighth consecutive race.
Roczen had the red plate early in the season after sweeping the three-race, Indianapolis residency, but Webb stalked him and grabbed the advantage while Roczen watched his points deficit grow to 22 points. With four races remaining, his odds of winning the championship were falling fast.
He might have felt the pressure, but Roczen has said all season that as badly as he wants the championship, he wants to enjoy the ride. Tonight he had the best of both worlds. Roczen built an eight-second advantage at the end of the race to score the win and shave nine points off Webb’s lead.
“The last race wasn’t a good one for me at all,” Roczen told NBC’s Will Christien from the top step of the podium. “I deal with my struggles, but one thing I always try and do after a race is kick myself and comeback and do my best.”
POINTS, RESULTS: All the postrace statistics from Round 14 in Supercross
Last week rookie Chase Sexton finished second to Tomac and was thrilled with his first 450 podium.
“It’s starting to click now,” Sexton said after the Atlanta 2 race. “Getting on the podium on Saturday really helped my confidence. One-two for Honda, which hasn’t happened in a long time.”
For now podiums are fine, but he told Christien after the race that would soon get old and he needed to step up one more position.
Jason Anderson’s path to the podium was much more eventful.
He stalled coming out of the gate in his heat and was charging hard through the field. He passed Alex Ray, but the rival drifted wide midway through the race and the two collided mid-air.
Instead of remounting immediately, Anderson stalked over to Ray and gave him a piece of his mind that lasted for several seconds. After getting on his bike again, he was not able to crack the top nine that would have immediately advanced him to the Main. Anderson finished 10th, 0.6-seconds behind Justin Starling.
Anderson was forced to ride in the Last Chance Qualifier, which he won.
“Today was pretty stressful,” Anderson said. “It started out amazing, felt like everything was going smooth, then stalled it on the gate for the start (of my heat), but I was able to come back and ride good. I was lacking a little bit of energy at the end, but I feel my speed was good and my riding is really well.”
On reflection, Anderson apologized to Ray.
“I want to say ‘sorry’ to Alex Ray,” Anderson told Blair. “I kind of overreacted. Not that I think his move was good in any way, but I shouldn’t have gotten crazy.”
The last three races for Anderson have gotten progressively better with a fifth in Arlington 3, a fourth in Atlanta 1 and this week’s third.
Justin Barcia finished fourth.
Time may well have run out for Tomac. After winning last week, Tomac needed to sweep the Atlanta residency to have a legitimate shot at beating Webb and Roczen. He still needs to amass wins, but he also needs his two rivals to falter in the next three races.
.@CooperWebb_2 goes down late in the 450SX Main Event! 😳
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) April 14, 2021
One of the biggest storylines of the second Atlanta race was the struggle of Webb, who was sixth — his worst finish since a ninth in the season opener. That consistency has made him the rider to beat. Webb got a great start, but never found his rhythm and watched as one rider after another passed him. He managed to close in on Barcia for fourth with time running off the clock, but jumped too close to the other rider’s wheel and fell.
This was the first time since Week 6 that Webb failed to stand on the podium.
Marvin Musquin in seventh, Aaron Plessinger in eighth, Dean Wilson in ninth and Joey Savatgy rounded out the top 10.
The points battle remains close in 250s – but that was almost not the case.
Points’ leader Justin Cooper got a great start and was pulling away from the field when a red flag with fewer than three laps in the books waved. That necessitated a complete restart. Heightening the drama was that the red flag came out for the rider second in the standings.
Early in the race Cameron McAdoo mistimed his approach on the tunnel wall and rammed hard into its face. His foot got caught up in the pegs and fender and the Kawasaki drug him onto the top like a ragdoll. McAdoo lay stunned for a while, unable to get his legs under him as the field rode by.
“It was crazy; I saw the red flag. I saw Cameron down,” Cooper told NBC’s Daniel Blair. “I didn’t really think it was going to get red flagged, but then we got it over there in the whoops.
“I don’t know how that works. I didn’t think (Mcadoo) was going to be allowed to race that, so it really got me distracted on the line and it was especially hard to keep my composure when the championship is close like this and a situation like that is going on. So to get out there and get it done again is really important. It shows how bad I want this.”
Like Roczen, Hunter Lawrence has been watching his chance to win the 250 championship slowly fade. He too had a bad start to the Atlanta residency with a seventh-place finish on Saturday. Lawrence finished second Tuesday night.
“It was really important for the championship, but at the same time I hate losing,” Lawrence said after the race. “If there’s someone in front of me I want to try and pass them. I had to dig pretty deep in the first start before the red flag. I had pretty decent – I want to call it a Jett (Lawrence) moment in the whoops and got a little wild.”
But the highlight reel belongs to McAdoo.
“I don’t have much to say,” McAdoo replied from the podium. “When I was laying up there I had a contusion on my thigh and it really was like when you get the gnarliest Charley Horse and you cannot move your leg. That was how it felt for a minute. I was trying to move my leg and they were like, ‘let’s get down; let’s get down,’ and I was like ‘let’s try’, but it wouldn’t cooperate.”
So the red flag waved in order to allow McAdoo to be helped down the steep face of the tunnel jump. Once he got his legs under him, the desire to ride returned. On a hot mic during a commercial break on Peacock TV, Mcadoo was heard pleading his case. He won the argument and because the race was red flagged with less than three laps complete, he was allowed to take his spot on the gate.
“I want to give a big shout out to Doc (John) Bodnar and the whole medical crew,” McAdoo said. “They evaluated me very closely and I appreciate that because I know sometimes if racers aren’t quite in their right mind, it might not be safe for them to race. I’m glad that they thoroughly looked me over and let me go out there and do my best.”
McAdoo will go for an X-ray of his hand Wednesday but expects to ride on Saturday, April 17.
Cooper added to his points lead, but McAdoo minimized the damage and is only nine points behind with two 250 West races remaining.
Saturday night’s winner Nate Thrasher finished fourth to earn his second consecutive top-five.
Garrett Marchbanks rounded out the top five.
ROUND 1, HOUSTON: Justin Barcia wins opener for third consecutive time
ROUND 2, HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds, wins after Round 1 disappointment
ROUND 3, HOUSTON: Cooper Webb wins, Ken Roczen denied revenge
ROUND 4, INDIANAPOLIS: Ken Roczen makes it four winners in four races
ROUND 5, INDIANAPOLIS: Ken Roczen goes back to back for first time since 2017 injury
ROUND 6, INDIANAPOLIS: Ken Roczen is perfect in Indy for third straight win
ROUND 7, ORLANDO: Cooper Webb trims Ken Roczen lead
ROUND 8, ORLANDO: Cooper Webb sweeps Orlando to put pressure on Ken Roczen
ROUND 9, DAYTONA: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael at Daytona; Ken Roczen, Copper Webb war
ROUND 10, ARLINGTON: Cooper Webb takes the points lead with five straight top-two finishes
ROUND 11, ARLINGTON: Cooper Webb wins first two races of Arlington residency
ROUND 12, ARLINGTON: Cooper Webb becomes championship favorite with Arlington sweep
ROUND 13, ATLANTA: The infield course at Atlanta gives Eli Tomac a late-season chance