Justin Brayton embraces role as Supercross elder statesman

Brayton Supercross elder statesman
Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept Honda

Every sport needs an elder statesman and although once reluctant to claim the honor, Justin Brayton has decided to embrace that role in the Monster Energy Supercross Series in what may be his final season.

Over the past few years, the makeup of the Supercross field has changed. Still dominated by riders in their teens and early 20s, the longevity of riders has increased. In 2022, 20 riders in their 30s will climb aboard their motorcycles to challenge the Young Guns.

Justin Brayton will turn 38 during the 2022 season and looks to extend his record as the oldest winner in Supercross – a goal he still believes is achievable. (Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept Honda)

It’s a challenge Brayton knows all too well. The overall number of older riders has increased, but Brayton has more experience in this arena than many of his colleagues.

Brayton has not always been the flashiest rider during his American Supercross career. A fourth-place finish in 2012 marks the high point of his championship standings, but that season he was tied with third-place Ryan Dungey and in sight of second-place.

He finished fifth in points twice, most recently in 2018, and has been a rider the field knows must be taken seriously every time when he qualifies for the Main.

So, what is the story that Brayton wants told after two decades of racing?

“(It involves) being the oldest rider out there, being the oldest ever win a Supercross race in Daytona a couple years ago,” Brayton told NBC Sports. “Still being able to compete at the highest level at 37, I’ll turn 38 in March, I would say that’s the biggest thing for my goal.

“Just to inspire people at home that think really anything is possible despite your age. In other sports, obviously football right now with Tom Brady, every sport can have their elder statesman. I think it’s cool to have a guy almost 40 years old still being able to potentially win a race or really compete at the front and at the highest level. I think that storyline is great.

“A few years ago I was like, I don’t want to be the old guy, where right now I love it. I’m proud of myself that I’m still here; I’m still competing.”

Brayton can still get the job done. On March 10, 2018, four days prior to his 34th birthday, he became the oldest rider to win a Supercross race. Brayton stood on the top step of the podium and looked down at 2020 SX champion Eli Tomac and 2021’s titlist Cooper Webb.

Of all the tracks Supercross races, Daytona’s configurations are typically the hardest on a rider’s body.

And while the top-10s have been less frequent in recent seasons, one of the highlights of his recent career was a podium in 2021.

Justin Brayton’s move to Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept gives him a chance to race in 2022 with a team that aligns with his goals. (Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept Honda)

“If I was just running around 15th-place, there’s no storyline right? It’s like, ‘Ah, he’s old – he’s kind of washed up,’ but I really feel like I can still win a race,” Brayton said. “I just got on podium this past year at 36 years old, so I think it’s really achievable to win or for sure be on the podium again and race up the front of the field.”

No racer ever hits the track without thinking he can win. But as the miles accumulate and accidents are stitched across their bodies like an insane treasure map guiding them through the land of experience, focus shifts. There are several keys to success and racing smart is one of the ways to climb onto those podiums.

Brayton continues to be competitive because of his mindset.

With nothing left to prove to anyone other than himself, 2022 will be about riding hard, looking to extend his oldest-wining-rider record and enjoying the process. He feels lucky that the Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts Honda team shares his goals.

It is one thing to think of age as just another number, but to go out and beat riders who were not born when one debuted in the sport is a notable feat.

Motorcycle racing is about balance. Riders need to balance on the bike and athletes need balance in their lives. Racing Supercross only since 2017 has allowed him to achieve that.

“In every other sport it’s proven that, the mid 30s is your peak if there is performance,” Brayton said. “I feel like the biggest thing for our sport is the mental burnout, so I’ve really paid a lot of attention to that and if I’m mentally ready to go and mentally ready to train properly for the things that it takes to compete at a high level here, I think that’s all that has mattered in the past several years.

“It’s not rocket science. The biggest thing is just mental rest – not being so stressed out and so bloated with family, kids, training, travel and all of that. And then do that for 12 months out of the year and then do that for 10 plus years. I think it’s almost impossible.

“So right now, the stress of racing is enough. To be able to have that for 17 races is a lot easier than 12 months.

“I’ve been able to manage my career by having time off – just letting my mind rest – not having to be at the gym, not having to do this obligation, not having to stress about the upcoming weekend for the race. That just wears on you, and being able to get three or four months of rest mentally and physically (is important). Now my mind is ready to go into fight mode and I’m able to sustain that until the end of May with Supercross.”

Most importantly, wins and podiums are still being accumulated – not only in his mind, but on the box scores as well. Only a few weeks before NBC Sports caught up with him at a media event in Anaheim, California, Brayton finished third in the Supercross de Paris. Before he left for France, the only request from his children was to bring home a trophy. It was a proud moment when he gave it to them.

Brayton won the 2018 and 2019 Australian Supercross championships, so there is plenty of rationale for his confidence entering 2022.

Now, there is that one last goal, which is to pad his stat of being the oldest winner in Supercross.

“I think this is this will probably be my last year,” Brayton said. “I think as I sit here today, I’ve got one more full season in me as a high-level guy. I’ve had a lot of people ask why would you be done if you’re still racing at this level. My come back to that is most things end because they go bad.

“I don’t want them to go bad.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500