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Saturday Night Live: Houston

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NRG Stadium Houston, TX Race Center: Houston Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship

#Deepfield is a term thrown out during the opening rounds of any Monster Energy Supercross season, but this year’s second round, from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, threw that trend in the wrong direction. In the 450SX class, two sure-fire title contenders were bounced out of competition with a pair of shoulder injuries, as Eli Tomac was unable to recover from last week’s Anaheim 1 crash and pulled out after practice, and then Marvin Musquin endoed in the whoops in his heat race and was unable to return to the track. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson was ready to pounce, logging a dominant weekend to lead every practice, win his heat, and then wear down the competition to win the main event. Following his second place finish last week, Anderson is the new points leader in 450SX, the first time he’s held that spot since winning the 2016 season opener.

Meanwhile, the 250SX West Region is supposed to be super stacked also, but Monster Energy/Yamalube Star Racing Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger blew right through the field even after a terrible start to score a resounding win. The soft, rutted Houston track likely worked in Plessinger’s favor and he carved through the field logging laps up to a second faster than anyone else.

In the 450s, though, Anderson served notice that he could be tough on any terrain. Even if Musquin and Tomac were ready, Anderson was ready to stake his claim.  “Tonight was pretty unreal,” said Anderson. “I honestly had the best night I’ve ever had in my career, but in the same time it’s about time for me to start doing that, [having good nights to] be a championship contender.”

Anderson was on another level all day and night.
Anderson was on another level all day and night. Shepherd

Especially when contrasted with Tomac and Musquin’s zero point scores, the 450 podium fight really became a battle of patience. Anderson took the win ahead of Ken Roczen—on the podium and leading laps in his second race back from last year’s terrible arm injury—and Justin Barcia, who starts the year with back-to-back podiums. All three riders have shown a penchant for aggression and fire through the years, but on a broken-down Houston track, all three showed reserves of patience to deliver solid results. In Anderson’s case, he had speed to burn in practice and his heat, but didn’t show his best stuff through the early laps of the main event. Barcia holeshot the race ahead of Roczen, and they went at it for a lap before Roczen took the lead. Barcia stuck with Roczen and they actually pulled away a bit from Anderson. In the second half of the race, though, Anderson let the race come to him. He found his groove and passed both riders to go get the lead. Anderson said the lines were really tough to figure out. He tried finding new ones and realized they were not working, so he just went back to the main race line and started hammering that. Once he did, he picked up the pace and went through Barcia and Roczen. Anderson has always been fast and aggressive, but his all-around game this weekend—good starts, patience, line selection and more—serve notice that he has the tools to win this championship.

“It’s important for us to stay calm, but it’s hard when you see the win in sight. That’s something you have to learn. That’s out of my character to be patient. It’s cool that I was able to execute that tonight. At the same time, these guys are going to be going fast, so sometimes you have to go for it.”

Roczen led at the halfway mark and really looked ready to win the race. He wasn’t at all disappointed that Anderson ran him down. If anyone knows how critical it is to play the long game, it’s Roczen.

“It was okay last weekend, but this was a really good weekend for us. I think where I have the most fun is just rolling out and hanging out with the HRC Team. It feels great to have two riders here and to get on the podium. Justin and I had some good battles and it was clean and it was fun. In the first couple of laps I had to protect my insides and I couldn’t separate myself at all. Then from lap two or three or so I started opening up my turns a bit and I could pull away a little bit. My mindset is really the same. You can’t freak out and get all crazy and be super aggressive. Mentally I’m going to stay the same all year and try not to make the big mistake.”

Fourth last week, second this week, Roczen's comeback is off to a strong start.
Fourth last week, second this week, Roczen's comeback is off to a strong start. Shepherd

Barcia’s three-three results so far are rock solid, but he showed a little bit of his old Bam Bam style with some big mistakes. The difference is, he smoothed back out and fixed them. At one point, Honda HRC’s Cole Seely passed Barcia to take away third, but Barcia settled down and got him back.

“My mechanic told me I had about 100 mistakes at Anaheim so if we could just have 50 tonight we’d be doing a lot better,” said Barcia. “I feel like I had 50 mistakes. I had a few back-to-back and yeah that’s frustrating but I think I calmed it down and pulled it back pretty good. 100 mistakes last week, 50 this week, maybe 25 next week.”

“I was having a good ride,” continued Barcia. “Just watching Kenny and what he was doing and adapting to the track because it was changing every lap. I just kind of struggled in the middle but made a decent charge at the end to get back into third.”

Weston Peick battled hard the whole way and took fifth for the second straight week. Cole Seely was able to get around him, though, and at one point even got Barcia for third. Barcia got him back, though.
Weston Peick battled hard the whole way and took fifth for the second straight week. Cole Seely was able to get around him, though, and at one point even got Barcia for third. Barcia got him back, though. Shepherd

Seely ended up fourth, just missing the chance to put two Hondas on  the podium. Overall, though, he rode well all night, just missing a heat race win as he battled his teammate Roczen to the end there.

Behind that, a battle of wills between Autotrader.com/Yoshimura Suzuki’s Weston Peick and SmarTop Motoconcepts Honda’s Justin Brayton. Peick started up front and lost spots to Anderson and Seely, and then found Brayton locked on him the whole way. For the final 17 minutes of the main, they pushed each other to the max, but Peick hung on for his second-straight fifth. Peick and Brayton have proven “best of the rest” at the first two races.

“It was a good race,” said Peick. “Track was super technical and super rough and I’m happy with my result. We made some good bike changes this weekend. Had some pressure from Brayton there, he was riding super smooth and super good. I just stuck my ground.”

Peick has nailed two good starts this year and he says that benefits him as he tries to become a weekly podium guy instead of a top-five type. He’s getting to see what the lead riders do, their intensity, and he says in a few weeks he hopes to be able to stick with them the entire way. Brayton, meanwhile, took sixth and says he and his bike are as good now as it has ever been in his entire career.

Brayton took sixth ahead of Blake Baggett, who looked better this weekend on his Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM. Then came Broc Tickle, who ended up as the only rider working out of the Red Bull KTM truck in the main. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Josh Grant and GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin rounded out the top ten, ahead of Malcolm Stewart, who made his season debut as a fill-in rider with Autotrader.com/Yoshimura Suzuki. Monster Energy/Knich Yamaha Factory Racing’s Cooper Webb had a disappointing night, starting about last and struggling to come through, taking 12th.

The KTM squad released a statement from Musquin. “After qualifying third today, I went down hard in the whoops in my heat race. I landed on my left shoulder and felt really beat up. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to line up for the rest of night. I'm really disappointed about that given the team and I were in a good place after our win last weekend. But I will get checked up as soon as I get home and will know more in the next few days. Supercross is a longer season so I'm hopeful I will be able to line up in Anaheim 2.”

Musquin goes from points leader to zero points scored at round two. He hopes to be back for round three.
Musquin goes from points leader to zero points scored at round two. He hopes to be back for round three. Kardas
Tomac gave it a shot in practice but couldn't ride more than a handful of laps.
Tomac gave it a shot in practice but couldn't ride more than a handful of laps. Kardas
Full Results

The early laps of the 250 race were crazy. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Joey Savatgy led with points leader Shane McElrath and Adam Cianciarulo in tow. They went at it! Cianciarulo got past McElrath but when he found the door open for a pass on Savatgy, he decided to turn even sharper to avoid running into his teammate. He lost the front and went down. Later, Cianciarulo would crash again—it takes patience to learn patience in the 250s.

Savatgy looked to have the race in hand after that, but then Plessinger showed up on the radar logging a huge charge.

“I’ve made mistakes in the past maybe doing things or doing obstacles I shouldn’t do,” said Savatgy. “Tonight was one of those nights were I was just going as fast as I could and Aaron was just going faster. Track was brutal tonight so I just tried to minimize the mistakes.”

“The first few laps were pretty crazy,” said Plessinger. “I’m not sure how I managed to get all the way up through there but on lap three I knew I was fifth or sixth place and I was catching these guys pretty significantly. I just put my head down and charged forward. This track was really sketchy, it was my kind of track. Long legs.”

Rookie Chase Sexton, of GEICO Honda, was solid on the difficult track, finishing third after passing McElrath and the downed Cianciarulo.

Plessinger logged an amazing comeback to eat up the rest of the 250 field. Savatgy rode solid and was content with second on a night when Plessinger just had the tricky track dialed.
Plessinger logged an amazing comeback to eat up the rest of the 250 field. Savatgy rode solid and was content with second on a night when Plessinger just had the tricky track dialed. Kardas
Attention supercross fans: This is what Chase Sexton looks like.
Attention supercross fans: This is what Chase Sexton looks like. Shepherd

"I’m pretty new to all this, just had to get a flow and try not to make mistakes,” said Sexton. “To be honest, I kind of expected to be pretty good this season, but last year I crashed in Atlanta and that was pretty tough. I felt pretty good this off season but this podium did come a little early.”

Full Results