Salt Lake City - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
With the Broc Tickle WADA situation shrouded in uncertainty, everyone is wondering who could potentially take over the number two spot at Red Bull KTM next year if Tickle is unable to return. Well, Shane McElrath just made a very strong case for himself–wait, no–he has been making a case for himself for a while. His Supercross skills are clearly up to snuff, and he just beat two of the riders that are expected to be title contenders once they move up to the big-bore class. He hasn't won a championship like Osborne, but neither did Cole Seely, who has gone on to be one of, if not the best number two guy in the 450 class. And that's the rider Shane has reminded me of throughout his 250 career. He strikes me as a rider who could potentially do bigger things in the 450 class than he has in the 250 class. If I'm one of the team managers that is looking at a spot to fill for 2019, I'd put Shane at the top of my list, even above several of the current 450 riders who will be available. The potential is just too big to pass up on, in my opinion.
The Bad: Aaron Plessinger | 4th Place
Fourth place isn't bad for Aaron Plessinger, considering there is only one race left, but I was surprised to see him go from battling for the lead to cruising in fourth. Did he dial it back a bit for the championship? Probably, and that's the smart play, but we haven't seen him just drop out of a battle like that much this year so it was a bit odd. Anyhow, now he just has to survive the 250 Showdown in Las Vegas and the 250 West Coast Championship will be his. He has a 13-point lead, so I don't think it will be difficult for him to wrap it up if he stays out of trouble. But, honestly, in Vegas that's not a given. Crazy stuff happens, just look at last year's Vegas 250 Main Event. A first turn pileup, a terrible start, or a random run-in with another rider could easily screw with his quest to be holding a number one plate at the end of the night. The good news for Aaron is that both coasts are fairly injury-depleted, so charging through the field may not be quite as hard as it would be in the past, but it's still something I'm sure he'd like to avoid doing. We have three championships to seal up in Las Vegas; I'm excited.
The Ugly: Justin Hill | 14th Place
Mmm, yeah. Remember when Justin won in San Diego? I do, too. Good times, and genuinely when he got that victory I thought that it had finally all clicked. The Justin Hill of 2017 was back! Be afraid! And then he went up to the 450 class and looked great, so I bought a ticket for the Hill Train. I was sold, and then he picked up a small injury while riding the 450, and then he got sick, and then he jacked up his foot in Salt Lake City...and here we are. I guess it was never meant to be. He has one more round of Supercross left on the 250, and I'd like to say he's going to go out there and remind everyone that he is still the current champ (until the end of the night), but I don't see it happening, especially with the foot injury he picked up in SLC. It truly is a shame how poorly his final year in the 250 class has gone. However, I am interested to see how he does outdoors this year. Will he only hang out around the top ten? Or will he actually contend for podiums? The past couple of years point towards the former, but I'm still gonna hold out hope that he does well outside for his final season on the 250. If I'm being completely honest, though, what I'm truly looking forward to is seeing him on the 450 full-time starting next year. I might think that McElrath is the hottest prospect right now, but Hill has proven his skills on a 450 and could do some serious damage as well. The 2019 Supercross season is going to be mighty intriguing.
The Good: Blake Baggett | 3rd Place
This was a good result for Blake, who I'm sure is eagerly awaiting the first gate drop at Hangtown. His Supercross season has been up and down, and he did pick up a small injury in the process, but I think everyone expects for the real Blake Baggett to show up outside anyway. That's where he is at his best, and assuming his injury isn't still bothering him by the first round I think we're going to see a dogfight erupt between him, Musquin, and Tomac for the title. It's gonna be sweet.
The Bad: Dean Wilson | 13th Place
Deano's season was derailed immediately when he went down hard at Anaheim 1. Since then, he has ridden with what is still a messed up shoulder. It's not as bad as it was when he first injured it, but he's definitely not at 100%. So to say that his season has been a disappointment is a bit...I dunno...heavy handed? I admire his grit and determination to race, but the results haven't been amazing because he hasn't been 100% the entire season. He does have a podium, which is great, but that was really the only bright spot this year. I mainly talk about this because Zach Osborne is moving up to the 450 next year and he's staying with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna, and Jason Anderson isn't going anywhere. So, does the team put together a third bike for Deano? Or is he left once again hunting for a ride? Personally, I hope he gets another full season on the factory Husky. One thing is for sure: they'd have a dynamite there-rider lineup if they kept him. I guess we'll see what happens this off-season, though.
The Ugly: Jason Anderson | 17th Place
The floor...that's where my jaw was when I saw that Jason Anderson had gone down in the first turn of the Main Event. "Eh, he'll still plow his way through the field," I naively thought as he picked up his bike and rode off in dead last. And then he pulled into the mechanic's area and got off of his bike. It was clear at that point that we were all witnessing a nightmare scenario coming to fruition. Not only had he gone down in the first turn, but some of the spokes had gotten ripped out of his wheel by Tomac's footpeg and he needed to get it changed. The team's mechanics seemed a bit panicked and made what might have been the longest front wheel change in Anderson's life (I think they changed it about as quickly as they possibly could, but it still probably seemed like an eternity to Anderson). He didn't seem super-pumped and was yelling, and I bet he was also trying to keep himself from slipping into panic mode. This was supposed to be the day that he wrapped up his first 450 title, but here he was in the mechanic's area getting a wheel change in a sport where you don't want to get a mid-race wheel change. How the tables had turned, and not in his favor. But, the wheel was eventually changed and he rode as hard as he could for the rest of the Main Event. He was 21st and two laps down by the time he re-enetered the race, and he finished in 17th, which was a better finish than I was expecting when he initially got back onto the track. Now he has a 14-point lead with one round to go. And while that isn't anywhere near as comfortable as the 30+ point spread he had up until Salt Lake City, it should still be more than enough of a cushion for him to secure the title. The only way he doesn't is if something crazy happens, and I don't see that happening two weekends in a row. Regardless, Las Vegas just got a whole lot more interesting.
Words by Grant Dawson
Photos by Steve Giberson