Pala, California – A championship can be won in all manners of way and for Chase Sexton in his quest for the 450 Supercross title, the 2023 season was a rollercoaster.
Simply looking at race results and statistics tell one story, but it’s not complete. The first eight rounds of the 2023 Monster Energy 450 Supercross championship went as well as Sexton could reasonably expect with seven podiums and a win in the Arlington Triple Crown. Unfortunately, Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb were logging an almost identical record in those opening races.
There was no room for error.
The Big 3 sat shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder in post-race news conferences in half of those rounds – and it was hard to tell who was strongest. Sexton arguably had the most speed in the opening rounds, but he was also in the unenviable position of having to beat the riders who combined for the last four Supercross 450 championships. Tomac and Webb knew how to keep the pressure on.
“[The season] started off good,” Sexton told NBC Sports. “I started off on the podium for the first several rounds, and then it took a turn for the worse I and started having a few mistakes. Went down a few times and then was able to rebound from that.”
Despite the strong opening, Sexton lost significant ground in the points with three disappointing rounds that almost derailed his season. As trouble often does, it came in one big wave. One of Sexton’s falls in the middle of the season happened at Indianapolis when he finished eighth. The following week, he won the Detroit round but was docked seven points for jumping in a red cross section of the track. The next week, he failed to podium in Seattle.
Sexton’s name was being mentioned less frequently with the title contenders.
And this is where Sexton’s story became most interesting. The mistakes he made in the middle of the season were self-inflicted. There were no overwhelmingly aggressive moves by Tomac or Webb and Sexton had to fight the questioning voice in his head.
“It took a lot,” Sexton said. “After Seattle, I was maybe a little bit defeated, honestly, I wasn’t super bummed out. I was more like, ‘man, this keeps happening. I don’t know what to do.’ I was pretty down on myself, but I kind of took that next week off – didn’t really ride much – just reset. And then went and tested the week after and that allowed me to push the bike a little bit farther.”
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Sexton found the mental toughness needed to mount a challenge on Tomac and Webb.
After his disappointing Seattle performance, Sexton finished second in the Triple Crown format Glendale race and won one of the three features. He won the following week in Atlanta and then his momentum stalled slightly in New Jersey with a fourth-place finish in an extremely muddy race that was not representative in this stage of the season.
Still a dark horse at the time, he won in Nashville the week that Cooper Webb suffered a concussion in his heat race. Sexton passed him for second in the standings. The following week when Tomac ruptured his Achilles tendon, Sexton won again and took the points’ lead.
“Coming into this season, I was a contender and people were talking about it,” Sexton said. “But in the middle of the season when I was having those crashes, they kind of counted me out, even in the press conference they were saying ‘It’s over; what are your plans for outdoors.’ I responded It’s never over till it’s over.
“It was a good time to come on strong and obviously with Eli going out, it gave back some points I gave away earlier in the season.”
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Sexton recaptured those points with a vengeance by winning four of the final five rounds. Season ending injuries to Webb and Tomac decided the championship before the final round. Sexton did not need the points from Salt Lake City, but he needed the win to give him momentum heading into the Pro Motocross championship.
“I’m bummed for [Tomac] and wanted to race him in outdoors because that was one of the best seasons of my life last year racing him. I’m looking forward to taking what I learned last year and applying it to this year.”
The biggest difference heading into the Pro Motocross season in 2023 is perception, both his and that of the fans and experts. For the first time in his career at this level, Sexton is one of, if not the, favorite to win the championship. It is not what he would have expected in the dark moments following the Seattle round.
“It’s been a long road getting to this point,” Sexton said. “Being a favorite coming into a season isn’t something I’ve ever had, really ever. So I’m looking forward to that. It comes with pressure, but I put myself in this position for a reason, and this is where I want to be. If I can go out there and perform like I did last year and improve off last year, that’s the main goal.
“It’s what I said going into Supercross and it worked out.”