A viewer’s guide to Supercross: Five things to watch in the 2022 season and Anaheim opener


With the 2022 Monster Energy Supercross season set to open Saturday night, a viewer’s guide to five key storylines when the gate drops at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California (10 p.m. ET, CNBC):

Major change for the champion: After winning his second 450 title in three seasons last year, Cooper Webb stunned the Supercross world by changing his training program during the Pro Motocross outdoor season last summer.

The Newport, North Carolina, native has moved to 83 Compound after a highly successful run at Baker’s Factory, the Florida facility that has churned out motorbike champions under the fastidious and rigorous regimens of Aldon Baker. It’s a decision he made independent of his powerhouse Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team (which still will have a connection to Baker with Webb’s new teammate, Aaron Plessinger).

“I just felt like I needed a change,” Webb, 26, said during the Supercross preseason special that aired on NBC last month. “I’m just kind of at the point where I didn’t really know if I wanted to race much longer, to be completely honest.”

HOW TO WATCH: Details for the 2022 Supercross season opener

After a series-high eight victories and 13 podiums in 17 Supercross starts last year, Webb faded to fourth in the 2021 outdoor points standings.

While leaving Baker might be a motivator to spur Webb’s return to elite form, it comes with some risk given that Baker generally is considered one of the greatest training coaches in Supercross history.

NBC Sports pit reporter and host Daniel Blair compared the Webb-Baker pairing with the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick partnership that produced six Super Bowl titles in the NFL, and there will be the same level of scrutiny within the Supercross industry on whether Webb can excel the way Brady did after leaving the New England Patriots.

“It’s a new challenge,” Webb said. “It’s all on me. I’m holding 100 percent accountability.”

Webb is accustomed to racing with a chip on his shoulder, as NBC Sports analyst Ricky Carmichael noted last year. “Cooper Webb is a warrior, a fighter,” Carmichael said. “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.”

The other veteran contenders: Last year’s title fight also involved Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac, forming the trio with Webb that has won the past three Supercross championships. Both Roczen, 27, and Tomac, 29, are returning to battle Webb for the crown this season, though each also has made adjustments.

After leading for stretches of 2021 and notching four victories, Roczen has worked on getting healthy again after an “underlying problem in my body” caused him to fade in the second half last season. “Looking back, I can’t believe I raced and won and made it to the last few rounds for the championship,” he said.

The German rider, who has overcome many major obstacles in his career (including nearly losing his left arm after a 2017 crash), is promising “less talk, more walk” in 2022 with more consistent results and victories in the hunt for an elusive 450 championship breakthrough.

SEASON IN REVIEW: A look back at how 2021 unfolded

There also have been some major life changes for Tomac, who recently became a father for the second time. After six years with Kawasaki, the 2020 champion has switched to Star Racing Yamaha and become the elder statesman for a young group (including teammate and Pro Motocross outdoor champion Dylan Ferrandis).

“It’s just a different way of going about the system,” said Tomac, who finished third in the 2021 standings with three victories. “And that’s really what it comes down to: Who do I think is going to provide the best platform and do I think everything surrounding that team will provide me an easier way to win races?”

Barcia’s big beginnings: Though the location changed last season, the winner of Round 1 remained the same. Justin Barcia will enter Anaheim with a three-year winning streak in the season opener. Last year in the debut of the GasGas Factory Racing team, Barcia won in Houston and now returns to the familiar confines of Angel Stadium, where he triumphed in 2019-20.

Though he wouldn’t win again in Supercross last year, Barcia mostly fulfilled his postrace pledge that “I just want to be in the fight all year, not just a one-hit wonder.” He finished fourth in the points standings, added some outdoor victories later in the year and enters 2022 with confidence.

“The vision I have is to be a champion,” he said. “It’s the only reason I’m racing anymore. … I believe in myself and know I can win. It’s like a puzzle, and all the pieces are coming together.”

New faces, new places: Along with the retirement of Zach Osborne, the offseason brought the usual parade of rider moves. Among the most notable: Plessinger has teamed with Webb at Red Bull KTM, Malcolm Stewart signed a two-year deal with Rockstar Husqvarna Factory Racing, and 2018 Supercross champion Jason Anderson took Tomac’s spot at Kawasaki.

Plessinger and Stewart also have begun training under Aldon Baker for this season.

Rebounding youth: After battling through injury and disappointment, Adam Cianciarulo and Chase Sexton still are viewed as budding 450 future champions (though Cianciarulo already is riding through a shoulder injury).

In the 250 class, rising stars Jett Lawrence and Justin Cooper will miss the opener because of injuries, but contenders Colt Nichols, Christian Craig and Jo Shimoda (who became the first Japanese rider to win a Supercross event last year) are in the field.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)