Monster Energy Supercross Round 15 will prove to be pivotal in the 2021 championship no matter who ultimately comes out on top.
Winning professional races often come down to how one responds to pressure.
Cooper Webb responded best to the pressure and won his seventh race of the season. He led the top three points’ leaders in a one-two-three finish that ultimately extended his advantage to 16 markers over Ken Roczen. Third in both the race and points, Eli Tomac is a distant 40 points behind.
For most of the race, it seemed that Roczen would shave even more off Webb’s points lead. After winning on Tuesday, Roczen narrowed the gap to 13 points. He led early Saturday night. And with Webb in third early in the going Saturday night, he momentarily had his deficit down to eight points.
.@CooperWebb_2 to the lead! 💥
Monster Energy 450SX Main Event LIVE fueled by @CircleKStores#SupercrossLIVE #DropTheGate pic.twitter.com/rqRbOGCZLp
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) April 18, 2021
Roczen was in the rider’s seat. Midway through the race, he had a massive 12-second lead over the field. It was his race to lose.
And that is precisely what he did.
Roczen got crossed up in the whoops as his rear tire swapped violently and eventually put him on the ground exiting the treacherous section.
“Literally I hit the whoops solid every time except that one time and it swapped me too much and I went down,” Roczen told NBCSN’s Will Christien after the race. “My bars were a little bit bent so it took me a little bit to get used to. I gave it all I got; that’s really all I can do. It was a solid ride up until then.”
Roczen remounted quickly, but lost five seconds to Webb, bent his handlebar slightly and could not regain his momentum. While he tried to relearn the handling characteristics of his bike, Webb caught and passed him with time running off the clock.
POINTS, RESULTS: All the postrace statistics from Round 15 in Supercross
Webb made his own set of mistakes in the race. He appeared to be off rhythm in the opening laps as he trailed Roczen and holeshot winner Aaron Plessinger. Justin Barcia and Tomac were faster than Webb in the first half of the race and it seemed they would be able to catch the points’ leader. But when Roczen went down, Webb’s shark-like personality kicked in.
“That feeling sucks when you’re struggling,” Webb said from the top step of the podium. “There’s nothing worse. I’ve got to give it up to my team. They gave me a competitive bike tonight. We went back and figured some things out.
“Honestly I made so many mistakes. I didn’t really ride well at all, but I just dug deep. I saw Kenny out front and he was riding awesome. I was trying to do everything I can. Then he made that mistake, luckily, and I just saw blood in the water.”
Webb immediately became a different rider. He struggled through the first two rounds at Atlanta. He salvaged a third-place finish last Saturday, but seemed numb on the bike Tuesday night and finished outside the top five for only the second time this season. That is the rider who started Round 15.
The team traveled to Florida after Tuesday’s race and found something to loosen up the handling, but it was not until Roczen’s fall that the improved performance was noticeable. The Webb who finished the Round 15 was the same rider as the one that finished first or second in seven straight races from Indianapolis 3 through Arlington 3.
After starting the Atlanta residency with a win, Tomac finished off the podium Tuesday night. His fifth-place result in that race makes his championship hopes slim, but he showed he will not give up by finishing third Saturday night. That is his fourth podium in the last five races.
“I felt like my riding was pretty good in the Main, but Cooper and Ken were out in front of me on the start there.” Tomac said. “I kept them in reasonable reach for a while, tried to make a push at the end but it wasn’t quite good enough. We won’t give up the fight and just keep going.”
After getting overtaken by Roczen early, Plessinger made the next two riders work for every pass. He slowed both Webb and Tomac as they battled. He settled into fourth at the checkers to score his best result since earning a career-first podium six rounds ago on another infield track at Daytona International Speedway.
Justin Barcia earned his fifth top-five in the past six races.
In the words of the inimical Yogi Berra, it was deja’ vu all over again in the 250 class.
For the second week a red flag on Lap 1 of the 250 Main conspired to rob Justin Cooper of his holeshot. And just like last week, this accident featured the rider who entered the weekend second in the points.
Cameron McAdoo crashed in heavy traffic. He drifted wide in the opening lap and clipped a Tuff Blox, which caused him to slow. Chris Blose jumped onto his back and landed heavily on the dirt. The race was red flagged so Blose could be helped off the track. He was transported to a local hospital for observation.
On the restart, Cooper once more earned the holeshot, but this time he had Nate Thrasher in tow.
Three rounds ago, Thrasher only dreamed about podium finishes. His best result was ninth in 250 West competition until he won his first career Last Chace Qualifier in the first round of the Atlanta residency. He won his first Main that same night. On Tuesday, he kept his momentum alive with a fourth-place finish in Atlanta 2.
Saturday night, he bobbled in his heat and crashed. That forced him into the LCQ once more.
And once more, he won the LCQ to advance to the Main – only to improbably win the big show again.
“It was great out there,” Thrasher told NBCSN’s Daniel Blair. “The LCQ is not where we wanted to be. We went down in the heat race, which is part of racing. But I knew we were riding good tonight.
“The track is very technical out there. It was getting really rough. The whoops were tough tonight and I just got through them. I wouldn’t say I was good, but I wouldn’t say I was bad.”
Cooper held on to finish second. It was almost as good as a win.
“Coming out of the whoops I saw a pileup and I saw that Cameron was down in that,” Cooper said. “I didn’t really see Hunter (Lawrence), I just knew he wasn’t behind me. A great night points’ wise. This track was really tough. I just wanted to get through this one safe.”
McAadoo’s and Lawrence both crashed early in the race, which allowed Cooper to ride pressure-free. Cooper built a 20-point advantage over Lawrence and is 22 points ahead of McAdoo with only once race remaining in the 250 West championship.
Seth Hammaker rounded out the podium.
“I’ve been pretty happy with the progress we’ve been making,” Hammaker said after the race. “I’m just learning every round and trying to be consistent.”
Lawrence finished fourth after getting pushed off course by McAdoo early in the race.
Kyle Peters rounded out the top five.
But once again, McAdoo dominated the highlight reel.
In the the second round of qualification, McAdoo crashed heavily. His bike rolled over and tossed him about like a ragdoll in an incident reminiscent of his Tuesday night crash.
BIG crash for Cameron McAdoo at the end of 250SX Q2 😳 #SupercrossLIVE #DropTheGate pic.twitter.com/DWLg2NQ3pz
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) April 17, 2021
McAdoo rode gingerly in his heat and barely qualified for the Main. His seventh-place finish forced him into a bad gate, which contributed to his being in heavy traffic in the opening lap. He crashed again on Lap 1, collecting Blose and Stilez Robertson in the process.
The crash on lap 1️⃣ of the 250SX Main event that caused the race to be red flagged 🚩 #SupercrossLIVE #DropTheGate pic.twitter.com/yDKii9mW60
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) April 18, 2021
After the restart, McAdoo ran into the back of his teammate Hammaker hard enough to tear the back fender off Hammaker’s bike. Once again, McAdoo found himself on the ground.
He remounted and attempted to minimize his points damage until he was cleaned out by Garrett Marchbanks a few laps later. That was the final straw. McAdoo could only climb back to 13th in the closing laps.
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
ROUND 14, ATLANTA: A clutch win for Ken Roczen and a gutsy performance for Cameron McAdoo