Cooper Webb vs. Ken Roczen: How the Supercross title contenders view Salt Lake


Supercross is at its best when showcasing mano a mano title rivalry, and this season has delivered an entertaining matchup with Cooper Webb, Ken Roczen and a pair of dueling storylines.

Webb, 25, is the 2019 series champion whose refuse to lose attitude has been evident in his comeback from two major injuries last season and a major points deficit this year.

Roczen, who turns 27 next week, also knows about rebounding from adversity and has added another dimension with a growing family becoming his favorite “hobby.”

The duo has won 11 of 15 races this year in the AMA Monster Energy Supercross Series with Webb leading by 16 points on his No. 2 KTM over Roczen and his familiar No. 94 Honda.

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And along the way, they’ve tangled a few times (notably at Daytona) with the contentious spats that are a cornerstone of any compelling dirt bike showdown.

Heading into the final two races of the 2021 season (both on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah), NBC Sports spoke with both Red Bull-sponsored riders. Here are the thoughts of Roczen and Webb as they face off for the 2021 championship:


Roczen and Webb both entered the Supercross season recovering from maladies that took them out of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season. Roczen rested after being “dead on his legs” battling shingles and Epstein-Barr; a back injury sidelined Webb for much of the Outdoors schedule. Both are pleased with how the 2021 season has unfolded.

Roczen: “Well, here’s the thing, you sometimes have to think back. I came into the season with no expectations, really. Just because obviously my last couple of years have been super tough. And then you start doing really good, and obviously, you’re scratching your head a little bit on the days where it doesn’t work well. But then you look back, and it’s just the bar gets set so high when we do so good, that it’s easy to forget the things that we’ve gone through.

“So of course, I’d like to be a little bit higher (in the standings), but there’s nothing really lost yet, and if you look at it, I’m 16 points down now. I for sure got robbed by four points when that whole flagging incident went down (a penalty after Round 2in Houston). So then we’d be 12 points (behind) right now. And it’s super close, and we’re in the championship, and there’s only two guys. So in the end, coming in with no expectations, we’re in the championship battle. I haven’t ever really been in a championship battle all the way to the end in Supercross. So we made a step in the right direction. I know I’m doing this to win a championship. But at the end, I still look back, and I’m proud of the team and everybody supporting me, around me. There was a big change of pace here. And nothing’s over yet.

Ken Roczen won a round at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, last year (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

“I just, of course, can’t take it easy now. I feel like I’ve got to win. But I’m super relaxed right now, because it is what it is, and I just enjoy racing. I’m going to go out there and try hard, and he’s the one who has to ride defensively, and I just got to go out and hammer a little bit and see if I can win. But you never know what’s going to happen. The one Atlanta round, we did a nine-point swing, so those points can go real quick, so I’m just going to go out there and enjoy the moment that I’m in, being in the championship hunt. And if it happens, that would be a next-level experience, but at the same time, the fun about competing is these butterflies in your stomach that you get when you’re trying to win. Right now, that’s really only two guys that can really say that. Eli isn’t too far out, but far enough to where it’s kind of come down to a two-man battle. So out of all these fast guys, it’s only us two. It’s pretty cool to look at, you know.”

Webb: “(Winning the championship) would be extremely special. Last year with the crazy crash I had (at Arlington, Texas), that in my opinion kind of took me away from the (2020) championship. The back injury that took me out of the whole motocross season this year. That’s racing, and you have those adversities. I always feel super rewarded when I can fight back from adversity and not lose that faith not only in myself but just that things are going to work out. This one has been a very trying year. I was at one point 20-something down in the championship. I felt like it’s been a great year to obviously claw my way back into the points lead, but then be able to take the red plate and lead it is always huge, but if I can execute and keep things going as planned and win another one, it would mean the world.”


Roczen was angry with Webb after they nearly collided on the first turn at Daytona International Speedway last month. Though they mostly have raced cleanly around each other since then, Roczen still is wary of Webb playing games.

As fellow Red Bull-sponsored riders, Roczen and Webb also have been co-stars of “Moto Spy Supercross Season 5,” a behind-the scenes docuseries that just released its sixth episode that focused on their championship battle (the previous five episodes are available on the Red Bull Motorsports YouTube channel).

Roczen: “Yeah, for me, there’s no holding back. I just have to go there and enjoy myself. When I do that, it’s when I ride the best. I just got to go out and win and try to put as many people in between me and Webb as possible. The exciting thing about racing, points can go down real quick. So it’ll just be interesting to see how the days are going these last couple of rounds. Especially races. If I get a good start, and he doesn’t, it’s going to be fun. Because it’s so much of the unknown. I have to win and go for it. He can not have a big mistake by any means, or else I’ll be right on his tail, and that’s when it gets real interesting.

“I feel like when he (plays games), it’s him being worried. When his confidence is low, that’s when he tries to do these kinds of games. I kind of know that by now. I feel like it’s happened in the past, and I’ve been kind of watching it. Honestly, I’d love for him to do that (at Salt Lake City). I’m better off just focusing on myself to be honest. But yeah, I’ve kind of noticed in certain times. When everything’s going his direction and everything’s going good and he’s winning, he doesn’t do any of that. I feel like when things get kind of tricky, he tends to want to do that. I just kind of know. I’m almost hoping it comes down to it because I’ve seen it also in Indianapolis when he kind of gets uncomfortable. He tries to pull these things and then it also can bite him real quick, because I ended up winning at that point. So yeah. It’ll be interesting.”

Cooper Webb joined the KTM Red Bull team in 2019, winning a 450 championship in their first season together (Feld Entertainment Inc./Align Media).

Webb: “Yeah, it’ll be interesting, man. It’s nice in a way that we’ve made ourselves the two contenders, that it’s just me and him really as far as the points go going into these last two rounds that can potentially win. There’s a lot of respect on my end for him. And racing him. He’s super talented and amazing on a dirt bike. Like I said, moving forward, it’s situational. Obviously I think there’s a bit of urgency on his side to try to make it happen. But for me it’s just going out and doing what I do and kind of executing. I really want to go out and get some more race wins. I feel like I can achieve that. For me, it’s going out there with the same strategy I have every weekend, and that’s every time we’re on the track, trying to be the best I can and get the best result.

“If we were under the same tent, Red Bull KTM, I think it would be kind of difficult, but we’re entirely separated. We share that one sponsor (in Red Bull), but it’s totally different with different people and everything, different sponsors. There’s a lot of respect there. Obviously we keep that in mind, but yeah, it’s game on as far as that goes.”


Though they have been the clear-cut championship front-runners throughout the season, there are divergent styles.

Cooper Webb

Roczen is the more naturally talented of the pair, but Webb is one of the grittiest riders of his generation. As Supercross analyst Ricky Carmichael described on a recent edition of NASCAR America MotorMouths, Webb is “a warrior, a fighter. He will wear you down. He plays games with you and just irritates you. He’s got every facet of the game figured out, and that’s what makes him so tough. It always seems like he races with a chip on his shoulder.”

Webb said he “absolutely” agrees with Carmichael’s characterization: “I take a lot of pride in that for sure. I feel like I have really good race strategies, and I just feel I have a lot of confidence in myself. Whether practice doesn’t go well, or I have a bad heat race or gate pick, or whatever the consequences are, I just feel like every time I line up on the starting line for a main event, I have a chance to go win. I think that’s hard to do at our level. It’s such a physically demanding sport, but it’s more even mentally demanding sport.

“Yeah, I feel like that’s a fair statement. I’m not always the fastest. I’m not always the flashiest, but I feel like no matter what, when I’m on that starting line that I have a shot to win a race and be on the podium, so that’s what I try to pride myself and remind myself. This year, I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a racer and racecraft but also with my speed and technique. I think it’s all experience, too. Every season you complete you learn more, and I’m only 25, so I’m kind of just hitting those golden years.

Ken Roczen

“I feel good going into these stadiums again. I felt a lot more comfortable in these environments under the real Supercross tracks. So yeah, I’m looking forward to it. Last year in Salt Lake, we finished the last seven rounds here, and I was very successful here. So yeah, I feel good about it. I know it will definitely be a battle, and things could get tight and tense, but we’re just kind of sticking to course and see where it ends up.”

Roczen said his objective for Salt Lake City is simple: Win both rounds, and everything will take care of itself. Last year during Round 15, he seemingly willed a victory into existence when he followed up on a vow to his father, whom he was texting the morning of the event.

“It’s kind of funny, I did the same thing in Atlanta, too” for Round 14, Roczen said. “I’ve done it multiple times, where I just woke up, my dad was texing me, and I said, ‘I’m winning today,’ and then I did. So yeah, I’m going to try to do the same thing.

“What I like about Utah is that it kind of has a sense of home for me just because I spend a lot of time in St. George, Utah, because it’s my wife’s family up there, so I spend quite a bit of time up there. And yes, I’ve won there before. There should be nothing in the way of me riding well. So I’m looking forward to getting up there, and especially for a couple of rounds.

“We had some good juju up there last year with getting the win and stuff. Eli (Tomac) is going to be good up there as well just because he lives at altitude. And it’ll be interesting to see how the tracks shape up this year. Last year, we had a little bit of everything, but the dirt has been the stadium so long that it got really dry. And it’ll be interesting to see what the conditions will be like this year. Just because I believe it’ll be actually cloudy and cold up there, so hopefully we get some good moisture in it and make a good track.”

Supercross Roczen Webb rivalry

Supercross Roczen Webb rivalry

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The red flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500