Good, Bad, 'n Ugly: Atlanta
Coming off of a three-week break, I wasn't sure how the West riders would handle not only jumping back into racing, but racing with a whole other group of riders added in. I thought it was going to be a bit of a tall order to expect for them to actually compete for the win, especially with the roll Austin Forkner has been on. And it was looking a little iffy for Adam Cianciarulo in his heat race (which was practically a West Coast Main Event), as he looked a little out of sorts for the first chunk of it before settling down towards the end. It seemed like he was able to get all of the kinks worked out in the heat race, though, because when the Main Event gate drop came he was all business. He got a third-place start, reeled in Chase Sexton and Austin Forkner, and took off with the lead. Dylan Ferrandis followed him to the front, but he was never able to get quite close enough and Adam took the win with absolutely no drama. No big slip-ups, and no near crashes (from what I saw). Just smooth and consistent laps all the way until the end. That makes four wins for Adam out of six races, and he now has a 15-point lead in the West title chase. There are still four races left in the championship, but it's starting to look promising for him if he can keep it on two wheels.
The Bad: Mitchell Oldenburg | DNQ
The only expectation I'd had for Mitchell this season was to make it through the year healthy. After working his way up from privateer to factory rider, he had a couple of solid years and then these past couple have been filled with injuries. He got hurt in 2017 after starting off the year well with two podiums in three races, and then he got hurt in 2018 after five races. So with that in mind, I don't think there was really any pressure on him to come out and compete for the championship. I'm sure he would like to have a podium by the end of the season, though. But, like I said, I would imagine the ultimate goal was just to make it to the end without any injuries. And then, unfortunately, he went down fairly hard during qualifying in Atlanta and had to sit out for the night show. Luckily, it sounds like he didn't sustain any serious injuries and is hoping to make a go of it at Daytona. I hope he's able to race and that he makes it through the remainder of the year unscathed.
The Bad Bonus: Jordon Smith | 18th Place
Considering Jordon has already been dealing with a wrist injury that has definitely affected his riding, Atlanta was the nail in the coffin for his '19 SX championship hopes. The hope was that he could lean on his consistency and salvage some podiums and top fives while his wrist gets back to 100%, but a crash during the Main Event and an 18th-place finish have put him 29 points down in the title hunt. While it's true that there are still plenty of races left in the season for the East riders, Jordon would need three guys (Forkner, Cooper, and Sexton) to have problems and drop a decent chunk of points. Then he'd need to be healthy enough to win some races and gap them. I don't see that happening.
The Ugly: JGR Suzuki Team
What a catastrophic night for the JGR's 250 squad. Jimmy Decotis and Enzo Lopes didn't qualify for the Main Event after both of them were in qualifying positions during the LCQ at one point. Alex Martin got a poor start and didn't really move up or down the order the entire race, and Kyle Peters got into a shoving match with Cameron McAdoo which led to both of them hitting the dirt after McAdoo dive-bombed him in a corner. I'm honestly not sure if it could have gone much worse. JGR has consistently had a dark cloud hanging over their heads in this sport it seems like, whether it's a big name rider not working out, injuries hindering the team, funding issues, or just poor results because of several different reasons. Things consistently do not go the team's way, and it sucks to see. I'm not sure what the team's status is as far as the title sponsor hunt goes, but I think it's safe to say the entire sport is pulling for them to land something. This team provides six bikes for riders across two classes, and we'd like to see them continue to do that.
The Good: Aaron Plessinger | 5th Place
Hey! Remember Aaron Plessinger? It's been a while since we've seen him up front, but he has been sneaky good in his rookie season. Consistently in or around the top ten, with a few flashes of potential here and there. I think some folks thought he'd be more of a force right away in the 450 class because of his height, but at the end of the day he is a rookie and he didn't get a full off season of preparation due to a back injury. Anyway, it was encouraging to see him run in fourth for most of the Main Event before getting pushed back to fifth by Ken Roczen towards the end. Given a couple more decent starts, we may slowly start to see more and more of Aaron up front as he gets more comfortable on the bike and in the class.
The Good Bonus: Cooper Webb | 1st Place
Five wins in 2019 for Cooper Webb. Five. He once again proved that while he may not be the straight-up fastest every race, he is consistent enough to fend off other challengers for 20 minutes + 1. Marvin Musquin and Black Baggett were both going faster than Cooper at times, but Cooper just didn't budge. He didn't slip up and never really gave them a chance to attempt a pass. Of course, the track was a little hard to pass on. But regardless, it was interesting that no matter how close the other two got to him, it was as if he was never in danger of losing the lead. His points lead still isn't astronomical at 13, but it does seem like he's starting to take control of this championship.
The Bad: Justin Hill | 11th Place
Justin has raced seven races this season and has yet to crack into the top ten. And while he is a rookie, like Plessinger, and expectations shouldn't be too high because of that, I think we're all wondering where the Justin Hill of last year went. It looked like he was gonna win on a 450 in Tampa last year before a pass attempt went wrong and he ended up on the ground. He looked fast in Atlanta as well...but this year? There's not a whole lot going on so far, but we'll continue to watch him and hope that he has a breakout race at some point this season.
The Ugly: Justin Barcia | DNQ
We got word towards the end of last week that Justin Barcia would miss Atlanta after a practice crash, and with that what started out as a great season for Justin continues to unravel. From his win in Anaheim, to his crash in Anaheim 2 which resulted in a bruised tailbone, to his DNF in San Diego, and now this crash and injury...it was a great start followed by a slow tumble down the hill for him this season. It hasn't been announced whether he'll race Daytona or not, but I expect that when he does return he'll be 100% healthy and ready to break back into the top five.
Words by Grant Dawson
Photos by Steve Giberson