Since the early 1970s, Daytona International Speedway has been a staple venue in the Supercross schedule, and even in the few years prior where it served as an AMA Motocross-sanctioned event. A half-century later, this weekend has played host to some iconic moments in Supercross lore. From Travis Pastrana's first career 125 Main Event win in 2000. To Chad Reed losing his engine with two corners to go in 2008, en route to a Kevin Windham win in the deep mud. And most recently, Justin Brayton becoming the oldest Supercross winner in history holding off Eli Tomac in 2018.
I haven't been the biggest fan of Daytona for the last two or three years, but this year's rendition scratched that itch. The 50th running of the event was set up to be a good one going into the weekend and into Saturday evening. Clear skies except for some sporadic sprinkles late in the evening, and temps in the 70s virtually all day. A great thing considering the ensuing 450 Class Championship battle between Eli Tomac, Cooper Webb, and Chase Sexton. The trio entered the weekend with just five points between them, in what has historically been a make-or-break round. The rider leaving Daytona with the 450 points lead since 2003 went on to win the points title 18 out of 20 times.
Another interesting wrinkle added into this weekend was the one-off call-up for R.J. Hampshire, essentially filling in for the injured Malcolm Stewart. The man currently second in the 250 West Championship was shot out of a cannon in qualifying, ending up fifth on the charts. In the 250 East division meanwhile, Nate Thrasher picked up a huge win to keep himself in the points hunt against Hunter Lawrence, despite suffering a torn ACL just two weeks prior. With his successful stint at Atlanta Motor Speedway nearly two years ago, would this be another opportunity for him to close the gap even more?
Comeback Put on Hold
It was nice to see Dylan Ferrandis back on the week through the week and into Friday press day, after his scary-looking accident at Houston where he was put in a neck brace as a precautionary measure. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait at least one more week to see him race. Once again, Ferrandis went down in ugly fashion on press day, endo-ing the bike in the rhythm section coming out of the tunnel jump, with his legs essentially wrapped up against the handlebars.
The best news here is that this looked far worse than it was for Ferrandis, who was reported as "ok" afterward. Furthermore, the word as of Friday and into early Saturday, was that he was probably going to race. But as you probably know by now, he didn't line up at all on Saturday night. After qualifying 11th in the opening 450A qualifying session, Ferrandis wouldn't be on track for the rest of the day. Absolute zero shot he was at 100 percent after that, and it's not like he needs to gut it out for the Championship at this point, so good call from Jeremy Coker and Star Yamaha.
Daytime Program/Injury Notes:
- Adam Cianciarulo, Kyle Chisholm, and Colt Nichols all out in addition to Ferrandis and Joey Savatgy.
- Track designs haven't done much for me here for a few years now personally. Like the wall jump before the finish jump though.
- 250 Fastest Qualifier: No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (1:13.286) (A full second faster than fourth on back)
- 450 Fastest Qualifier: No. 23 Chase Sexton (1:11.990) (Also a full second faster than fourth on back)
Heat Racing Roundup
Tom Vialle in his first trip to Daytona looked exactly how you'd expect off the gate drop, pulling out front for the opening lap. That was until Nate Thrasher hunted him down and cruised out to what was a 4.75-second win. His best lap here was nearly a full second faster than anyone else and was averaging just about 1:15 a lap on the dot, far better than anyone in this heat. Although he didn't end up making a transfer spot, Rockstar Husqvarna's Talon Hawkins impressed me here. He was buried in the pack early on but rallied to 11th by the time he got the checkered flag. If only he had a couple of extra laps, he probably makes it into the Main Event outright without question.
Star Yamaha looked to keep the good times rolling with Jordan Smith, and at least to start it was leaning that way, as he led the opening few laps ahead of Hunter Lawrence and a sporty-looking Chance Hymas. The former ended up getting by after a few pass attempts, and that ended up being the only movement in the top five the entire distance. Additionally, Lawrence was just about a second faster a lap than anyone else just like Thrasher was in Heat 1.
Not a huge shocker, but Eli Tomac looked dialed in to kick off his night but didn't have that same level of speed during the day. Ken Roczen did show off some great speed earlier in the day however and was bar-to-bar with Tomac to start, as was surprise early front-runner Chase Marquier. The Partzilla Kawasaki rider ended up fading to outside the top 10 but was in the top five for an impressive stint relatively speaking. Outside of that, this was a routine win for Tomac, leading every lap in this opening 450 bout.
Hampshire wasn't at Daytona to play games in his 450 debut. Shot out of a cannon, he and teammate Christian Craig paced the Heat 2 field early with Hampshire pulling out to nearly a two-second gap to Webb and Sexton by the time the white flag waived. Felt like Webb was going to run him down and get by him on that last lap but it never happened. Thoroughly impressed with Hampshire here, especially in a field that featured Webb, Sexton, and Jason Anderson, passing the eye test with flying colors in my book. Also, zero mistakes from a guy who typically is prone to making some which was nice to see.
250 East Class Recap
1st - No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (Honda HRC)
Was stunned that Lawrence went for the jugular as quickly as he did on Thrasher, but that move paid off in spades last night. Not only did that compound into another mistake for Thrasher, but it also gave Hunter zero pressure behind him for the entire 15 minutes and change. The only guy in the same area code was Max Anstie, and even then he was almost 10 seconds back by the time it was all said and done.
Moving forward now, I don't think it's a stretch to say that he's going to have a target on his back. His move on Thrasher wasn't the dirtiest pass I've ever seen, but I wouldn't blame Thrasher in the slightest if he holds a grudge. Lawrence absolutely could have held off on that for a couple of laps at the least, and he clearly had the speed to get by him anyway. But here's how he saw it in his own words.
3rd - No. 238 Haiden Deegan (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Simply another positive step in the early career of Deegan, who finds a podium finish just four starts into his career. We also saw him show off some real aggressiveness for the first time as he put some elbow grease into an outside pass on Jeremy Martin going into the sand early on, much to the delight of the booth. Another rider who took notice of this run was Adam Cianciarulo, who compared Deegan's race craft to Cooper Webb when he burst onto the pro scene about a decade ago. If I was in the Star Yamaha camp, I'd be beyond thrilled with his early progression, a top three points finish is on the table at this point.
6th - No. 832 Chance Hymas (Honda HRC)
Hymas was equally as impressive on Saturday but in an entirely different fashion. You may have missed it, but the Honda HRC rookie nearly fell in the opening rhythm section after he nailed one of the tuff blocks, which shuffled him back to around 17th right off the bat. Luckily for him, his pace from the Heat Race didn't go away, and he clawed his way up to sixth by night's end. His lap times on the whole were comparable to Jeremy Martin, who only bested him by one spot. Deegan is naturally going to get the most credit of these rookies for obvious reasons, but Hymas hasn't been too far off on the eye test four rounds in.
10th - No. 29 Nate Thrasher (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Yeah, I imagine things weren't too cheery in the Star Yamaha pits after the 250 Main. Thrasher now sits 29 points out of the points lead, and he is partially to blame on top of Lawrence. That quad-out pass attempt on Hymas felt as inadvisable as possible given the situation. He was not even a full lap off from running two seconds faster than him and would have probably gotten him going into or out of the sand section at the rate he was running. Thrasher is well within his rights to be upset with Lawrence, but that wasn't the only reason his night went off the rails.
22nd - No. 128 Tom Vialle (Red Bull KTM)
Thought this was going to be an awesome night for Vialle, but things ended before they could begin. Running in second behind Lawrence, the MX2 World Champion went end over end in the wave jump section and bent his front wheel all out of shape. Vialle was shaken up but no worse for wear, but that's where his night ended. Thought he would have been a podium contender otherwise.
250 East Class Daytona Top 10
1st No. 96 Hunter Lawrence
2nd No. 63 Max Anstie
3rd No. 238 Haiden Deegan
4th No. 58 Jordon Smith
5th No. 6 Jeremy Martin
6th No. 832 Chance Hymas
7th No. 57 Chris Blose
8th No. 285 Coty Schock
9th No. 67 Cullin Park
10th No. 29 Nate Thrasher
250 East Class Points after Daytona
1st No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (99 Points)
2nd No. 63 Max Anstie (85 Points)
3rd No. 238 Haiden Deegan (74 Points)
4th No. 58 Jordon Smith (71 Points)
5th No. 6 Jeremy Martin (71 Points)
6th No. 29 Nate Thrasher (70 Points)
7th No. 832 Chance Hymas (60 Points)
8th No. 128 Tom Vialle (53 Points)
9th No. 57 Chris Blose (53 Points)
10th No. 31 Michael Mosiman (51 Points)
450 Class Recap
1st - No. 1 Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
I mean outside of the fact that he wasn't super sharp in qualifying, was there really any doubt? Winning at any venue in motorsports seven times in eight years is insane, but at one of the three or four most prestigious venues in racing, that's nothing short of mind-boggling. Whatever Tomac didn't have during the day he found under the lights. Not much else to say really, now we're potentially six days away from Tomac becoming the third rider in the history of the Supercross to hit 50 wins. Honestly never thought anyone would catch Stew but here we are.
2nd - No. 2 Cooper Webb (Red Bull KTM)
Gotta give Coop all the credit in the world. The lack of a win at Daytona for the second year in a row isn't an effort issue, but a slip-up on his end likely threw it away. On the pass from Tomac, he confirmed that he accidentally slipped the bike into neutral for a split second. Even then he kept Tomac honest till the bitter end, continuing his podium streak at Daytona. The only thing that jumped out to me that Webb could have done differently was come off of running the inside of the off-camber corner. Felt like he was consistently giving up a ton of time to Tomac there.
3rd - No. 23 Chase Sexton (Honda HRC)
Not a bad night for Sexton by any means, but he isn't exactly in a position to go much longer without winning races. For whatever it's worth, he didn't throw anything away this time and simply wasn't the fastest guy. Hollow for sure, but better than throwing away another win if you ask me. In even better news though, Sexton survived multiple incidents with Justin Barcia which feels like a win in and of itself. The two exchanged pleasantries post race so I doubt this will be ending anytime soon.
4th - No. 51 Justin Barcia (TLD/Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing)
Outside of the two incidents with Sexton, this was the best Barcia has looked all year. When Tomac, Webb, and Sexton created an early breakaway, Barcia was right there in that group as well keeping those three honest. Outside of the two laps where he and Sexton made contact and the final lap, Bam Bam didn't run a single lap outside of the 1:16 bracket. Just glancing at the individual lap times, only Tomac and Webb did that during the entire Main Event. On a final note, I would not be shocked if Barcia receives some sort of time or points penalty for going full throttle off track after he was bumped off by the time this is live.
6th - No. 32 Justin Cooper (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
By the sounds of it on the broadcast, this was Cooper's final round of Supercross in 2023, which feels like a very premature end if that's the case. But in five rounds of work, he never finished outside the top 10 and averaged a 7.8 finish. Additionally, despite only running five rounds, Cooper is just eight points out of being in the top 10. I get that Star wants him good to go for the Outdoors so he can compete for a 250 Championship, but letting him run these last two or three rounds before the Easter bye week feels like a no-brainer right?
8th - No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing)
That was about as good a 450 debut you could ask for if you're either Hampshire or Rockstar Husky team manager Nathan Ramsey. Outside of the results, which were excellent for the record, R.J. never slipped up and he competitively ran every lap, which is all you can hope for. Was halfway expecting him to tip over in the sand a couple of times and it just never happened, so good on R.J. My guess is we won't see him on the 450 again this year, but I am interested to see how this Daytona stint translates to how he runs on the 250 once the West Championship picks back up in Seattle.
450 Class Daytona Top 10
1st No. 1 Eli Tomac
2nd No. 2 Cooper Webb
3rd No. 23 Chase Sexton
4th No. 51 Justin Barcia
5th No. 21 Jason Anderson
6th No. 32 Justin Cooper
7th No. 94 Ken Roczen
8th No. 24 R.J. Hampshire
9th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger
10th No. 28 Christian Craig
450 Class Points after Daytona
1st No. 1 Eli Tomac (186 Points)
2nd No. 2 Cooper Webb (181 Points)
3rd No. 23 Chase Sexton (176 Points)
4th No. 21 Jason Anderson (148 Points)
5th No. 94 Ken Roczen (138 Points)
6th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (135 Points)
7th No. 51 Justin Barcia (132 Points)
8th No. 28 Christian Craig (103 Points)
9th No. 17 Joey Savatgy (85 Points)
10th No. 45 Colt Nichols (84 Points)
Daytona PulpMX Industry Idiots Fantasy Team
450 Class: Eli Tomac (All-Star +1), Shane McElrath (+8), Justin Cooper (+1), Cade Clason (+13)
250 Class: Nate Thrasher (All-Star +3), Talon Hawkins (+6), Jack Chambers (+15), Coty Shock (+5)
Points Total: 245 Points
Next Up: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Main Image via Yamaha