Chase Sexton wins Salt Lake City Supercross finale, secures championship with an exclamation point


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Chase Sexton was determined there would be no asterisk attached to his championship and ended the 2023 season and Monster Energy Supercross finale in Salt Lake City, with the win and an exclamation point instead. Sexton snapped a 20-year championship losing streak for Honda to become the first rider since Ricky Carmichael in 2003 to win for the manufacturer.

With Hunter Lawrence clinching the 250 East title in Nashville and Jett Lawrence clinching the West in Denver, Honda had a clean sweep of the Supercross championships.

Sexton’s Salt Lake City win was his third consecutive and fourth in the last five rounds and in each race, he rode flawlessly.

While it is true that two of his closest competitors fell to injury in the past two rounds, Sexton did everything in his control by winning the Nashville race and taking over second in the points when Cooper Webb was injured. He won and took the points’ lead from Eli Tomac in Denver when that rider ruptured his Achilles tendon.

Championships come in all shapes and sizes.

Sexton dominated the night by grabbing the holeshot and riding away from the field. When the checkers waved, he had an 18-second lead over Aaron Plessinger and had lapped his way up to fifth-place.

“I worked my whole life for this exact moment since I was four years old,” Sexton told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “My dad and I traveled the world to go to races and it paid off. The season has been up and down.

“But they have 17 races for a reason and you have to stay strong. I’m so proud of how I’ve bounced back this year. It goes to show I can make the whole race. I’ve made strides this year and it paid off.”

Sexton’s charge to the points’ lead began six rounds ago with a second-place finish in Glendale, Arizona after a series of mistakes had him virtually out of the conversation for the title. Being left out of the conversation made him angry and in the post-race news conference, he said that was a key motivation for the perfect performances he’s put together with his last four wins.

Plessinger made his return to the series after missing three rounds to injury.

Still sore from a crash in New Jersey, he was determined to make noise in a field that has been depleted by injuries. Plessinger grabbed the holeshot in his heat and led until time ran off the clock, but needed to complete the last two laps. At the end of the whoops, he got behind on his braking and blew through the end of the bowl turn, taking out a robotic camera in the process.

It took a while to disentangle his bike from the apparatus and Plessinger fell to 10th, but made his way around Joan Cros on the final lap and qualified for the main with his ninth-place finish.

“Man, I’m feeling good especially after that crash in the heat race,” Plessinger told NBC Sports’ Daniel Blair. “It was a tough choice coming back to race this round because I’m still sore. I figured I’d give the fans a good race to watch and that’s what I did. I didn’t go out without a bang; I took out one of your cameras and got a little muddy.”

Justin Hill stood on the final step of the podium, completing a series of races in which he finished better with each consecutive outing. Hill finished fifth at Nashville and was fourth last week in Denver.

“The expectations just kept moving,” Hill said. “What a year for Team Tedder. We’re just out here doing our thing and enjoying it and I couldn’t be happier.”

The battle for second through fourth was intense between Plessinger, Hill and Adam Cianciarulo. Each of them saw this as an opportunity to end the season on a high note.

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall in Denver

One week after scoring an emotional podium finish, Cianciarulo scored his second top-five of the season with a fourth-place result. He chased the leader for the first half of the race until Plessinger caught him. Riding with soreness in his arm after having stem cell therapy during the week, he chose discretion and a solid finish.

After scoring five consecutive top-10s without a top-five, Dean Wilson finished fifth for his best result of the season.

Ken Roczen entered the final round needing only two points to pass Webb for third in the standings. A near crash in a bowl turn on Lap 1 put an end to his race as he hyper-extended his knee. Roczen finished last in the Main and earned only a single point. Compounding his frustration was the fact that he was in a league of his own in his heat, winning with an advantage of 12 seconds over Wilson.

Jett Lawrence ended his 250 Supercross career in style, taking his 13th win in this class and moving into a tie for third with Jeremy McGrath.

After clinching his championship last week in Denver, Lawrence said he was not going to take any risks this weekend as he prepared to move into the 450 class in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, but with his closest rival for most of the season ahead of him in the Main, Lawrence could not pass up the opportunity to get around RJ Hampshire.

“The emotions haven’t come out quite yet,” Lawrence said after the race. “The last 250 race, to come out on top; it’s been awesome. This 250 has been unreal to me. It’s who I am today.”

For Lawrence, this is his fourth consecutive championship after winning the last two Motocross titles and last year’s 250 East championship.

Hampshire held on to finish second with Levi Kitchen in third, which led Lawrence to declare the race a romp for the 250 West riders. “All West guys top three,” he declared. “Is West the best? I’d say so.”

Click here for 250 overall results

The highly touted battle between Jett and his 250 East championship winning brother, never materialized as Hunter Lawrence got a bad start out of the gate and was involved in a pileup on Lap 1 that dropped him outside the top 10 for most of the race.

The first 250 East/West Showdown was overshadowed by rain that began to fall just as the riders hit the gate for the feature. After a lengthy delay for lightning to clear the area that weekend, the track was turned into a muddy pit. The East/West Showdown in Salt Lake City was also defined by rain, but with sunshine during most of the afternoon, the moisture soaked into the ground and track held up. It was slippery but did not fall to the same conditions as New Jersey.

Hampshire grabbed the early lead with Jett on his back tire. For the past two weeks, Jett has said that his focus is on his move to the 450 class, but with adrenaline flowing and a chance to beat his rival, Jett surged in the middle of the race.

“The little punk got me,” Hampshire said. “I had a good start. I was stoked on that and I came around the second turn and looked at the board and saw he was right behind me and said ‘this is going to be a long one’. He was better than me in the whoops. I tried to protect it. I knew he was there. But I can’t take away from this season.”

Jett and Hampshire have had heated battles all season and Jett gave him a little elbow grease halfway through the race as he then pushed Hampshire wide to take the lead. In the post-race conference, Hampshire said it was a good thing Lawrence scooted away because he fully intended to repay the favor in the next turn.

Kitchen secured the final podium position after winning the 250 West heat race by a sizeable margin over Hampshire and Jett.

Jo Shimoda was the top 250 East rider in fourth and Jordon Smith rounded out the top five.

A Lap 1 accident collected several riders including Hunter and the 250 East heat winner Haiden Deegan. Hunter climbed to sixth at the checkers with Deegan in eighth.

The disappointment for Deegan was as sharp as it was for Hunter. Named Supercross Rookie of the Year earlier in the day, his heat win served notice that he would be in line to take the mantle and be one of the top contenders next season.

“I’ll just tell you this; [the heat win] boosted my confidence quite a bit,” Deegan said. “I got the holeshot and ran away.”

2023 Race Recaps

Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Hunter and Jett Lawrence faceoff one last time
Malcolm Stewart renews with Husqvarna
Adam Cianciarulo: “It’s about what you notice in life’
Eli Tomac and James Stewart comment on Tomac’s injury
Eli Tomac suffers season-ending injury
Cooper Webb sustains concussion, out for season
Results and points after Denver
Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment
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DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and six red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500