Ironman - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
After an up and down outdoor season, Colt Nichols was finally able to secure an overall podium with 3-4 moto scores at the final round of the series. I think he's had the potential to be up there all season, but clearly something went wrong after the first couple of rounds because he went from being a top-five threat, to battling hard just to earn top tens. Well, it appears that "something" was his bike setup, as he attributed his impressive performance to the many changes he's made to the bike over the past couple of weeks. Of course, it kinda sucks that he didn't get the bike figured out until the end of the season, but at least now he has an outdoor setup he's pleased with that he can use as a base setup for next year. Hopefully he has a solid off-season and stays healthy, so we can see him battle for a Supercross title next year.
The Bad: Chase Sexton | 6th Overall
How could a rookie who got sixth overall end up as "The Bad"? Well, he really should have been up on the podium. After a terrific start, he had a heartbreaking end to the first moto when he ran into the back of a lapper and went down while running third with two laps to go. He then went down again all on his own and slipped back to tenth at the checkered flag. It was truly a great ride, but those late-race issues made it look average on paper. It wasn't the end of the world, though, as he still had the second moto to redeem himself. And the second moto was actually going pretty well...until he made a mistake while trying to fend off his teammate, RJ Hampshire, and their lines came together and Chase went down yet again. He ended up sixth in that one, which isn't bad by any means, but, man, it could have been a much better day for him. But hey, it was a solid rookie season for Chase, and he should consistently be inside the top ten next year.
The Ugly: Aaron Plessinger | 14th Overall
Plessinger usually flies at Indiana, and he was fast once again this year. A bit off of the pace of the leaders, but fast nonetheless. And his fourth in moto one set him up for a chance at winning the overall, or at least landing on the podium. It was not meant to be, though, as he crashed early in the second moto and appeared to pick up some sort of thumb injury. It wasn't a hard crash, really, but his hand landed awkwardly, so it wasn't surprising to see him pull in a lap or so later and call it a year. It was a smart move. He wasn't fighting for the championship, so there was no need for him to try and ride with only one glove and a potentially messed-up hand. With any luck, he's uninjured and can start preparing for 2018 Supercross in a few weeks.
The Good: Eli Tomac | 6th Overall
He may not have dominated the field like many expected, but Eli Tomac is the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 450 champ. This is his first 450 title, believe it or not, and like everyone always says, "It should get easier after the first one." And to a certain extend, yes, it should get easier, but I'm thinking it'll get easier mentally, not necessarily easier physically. I mean, we all saw the "funk" that Eli went into after having a rough go of it at Spring Creek. It was clear that he was going into extreme conservation mode to try and protect his points lead. But it didn't work. Instead of just settling for third or fourth and effectively putting the championship on ice a few rounds early, he was struggling to get top-five finishes and was losing massive amounts of points to Marvin Musquin. (Granted, he did have a few motos with goggle problems, but he was struggling regardless.) He finally broke out of the funk in the second moto of Budds Creek, and claimed the win and a decent points cushion going into the final round. To my surprise, it looked like he was going to try and challenge Jeffrey Herlings for the lead on Saturday until he crashed. After his spill, he decided to back it down quite a bit for the rest of the day and just get the championship done. It was the smart move, and anyone who was giving him crap for not going all-out to beat Jeffrey clearly has not been in his position. You really think you would go back after a guy who's not even a championship challenger after crashing once? You think you'd push your luck for a second time? No, you'd want to seal up the title...the thing that actually matters. That's what he did, and now he's the champ. And, now that he's done it, I think he'll be able to get through the next one without having to jump through as many mental hoops.
On another note, I do think he's gonna go balls-out to win next weekend at the USGP. He's got no reason to be conservative, so he might as well throw everything he's got at Jeffrey and Antonio Cairoli. It is going to be interesting, that's for sure.
The Good Bonus: Jeffrey Herlings |1st Overall
He came, he saw, he conquered. There was no stopping The Bullet from claiming his first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross win on Saturday. He started second in the first moto, quickly got to the lead, and then he was pretty much gone after Tomac went down. Marvin Musquin did close up on him about two-thirds of the way through, but then Jeffrey stretched it back out and took the win comfortably. That second moto, though, was a clinic. My goodness, the guy was pretty much dead last after going down in the first corner! Three minutes later...he's in 14th....then ninth a lap or two later....then fifth a few minutes after that...and then second with still a decent amount of time left in the race. Cue Musquin making a mistake with a little over a lap left, and Jeffrey is in the lead and primed for a 1-1 performance. It was a phenomenal ride, and one I won't forget for a long time.
Of course, this also revived the dreaded the AMA vs. MXGP debate. It's truly an endless, and pointless, debate that I'm not a fan of by any means. Because, truthfully, there is no way to tell which is the better series. If Ryan Villopoto had dominated the 2015 MXGP World Championship, I wouldn't say that meant the AMA series is better than the MXGP series. It would simply mean that Villopoto was better than the MXGP guys. The same thing happened on Saturday; Jeffrey Herlings was better than all of the AMA guys. Does that mean that the MXGP series is the better one? No, because it's just not a valid comparison. They're both great motocross series, so why is it so hard to respect both equally? I dunno, I guess I'm a bit of an old man when it comes to that subject. Anyway, at the end of the day it was an excellent performance by Jeffrey, and I look forward to watching him go for another win at the USGP this coming weekend.
The Bad: Dean Wilson | 10th Overall
Dean was actually extremely sick on race day, and it was actually pretty impressive that he was able to gut out a 10th place overall finish. And while it may not have been a day that he'll want to remember, it has been a year he'll want to remember. Because as I've stated before, he is pretty much the story of the year. From a self-funded privateer, to factory rider, to podium contender, it was an incredible journey for the Scotsman. Now his focus will shift to 2018, where he'll look to not only continue to get great results like he did this year, but continue to improve and work towards the podium in Supercross.
The Ugly: Phil Nicoletti | 19th Overall
Everyone likes to give Phil a hard time, but everyone likes Phil. So it was worrying when the red cross flag was out for a good while where he crashed in the second moto. Luckily it sounds like he's going to be okay, but getting attended to by the medical team is not the way he wanted to end this trying year. I hope he's able to get back on the bike and start his preparation for 2018 soon. It's time for the Filthy Phil redemption story.
Words by Grant Dawson
Photos by Steve Giberson