2023 Monster Energy Supercross 450 Class Preview Part 2
Last year in Supercross we saw three riders who looked head and shoulders above everyone else on a 450. Those riders in question were of course Eli Tomac, Jason Anderson, and Chase Sexton. Entering 2023, those three are once again considered to be at the top of the sports food chain. Last year they combined for 15 of the 17 Main Event wins and were the top three riders in terms of laps led. Beyond that, Adam Cianciarulo is back after nearly a full year off from racing, and Colt Nichols has a massive chance in front of him with a factory ride for the time being. What about Justin Cooper? His interesting predicament has him on a part-time 450 schedule. We get to that and more in the back half of our 450 Class Supercross Preview. But first, I felt like saying something about a tragedy in the motorsports world.
Remembering Ken Block
Monday ended up being a horrible night in the sports world, with Bills' safety Damar Hamlin's horrifying injury, as well as the loss of true motorsports icon Ken Block. I don't think there's ultimately a word you can put use to describe his value to what he meant to not only an entire industry but an entire generation of motorsports fans. The level that he was on may have only also been occupied by Travis Pastrana. Truly an icon among icons.
When talking about Block, you're talking about someone who was the face of rallycross/rally, the face of Monster Energy, and the face of Ford for nearly two decades. That's not even mentioning his involvement with DC shoes, Hoonigan, the concept of Gymkhana/the Gymkhana series, as well as his more recent work with Audi. Just simply a loss that's too hard to put into words. Guys like Ken Block don't come by often and he was as cool as the other side of the pillow in every sense of the phrase. Rest in Paradise.
Monster Energy AMA Supercross 450 Class Preview: Part 2
*- Bold statistic indicates series leader
No. 23 Chase Sexton
2022 Supercross Stats: 1 Win, 44 Laps Led, 3 Holeshots, Average Start of 3.9, Average Finish of 5.6, 292 Points (6th)
There may not be a more interesting motorsports athlete to keep an eye on in 2023 than Chase Sexton. He's in the final year of his deal with Honda HRC, and unless they want to become a three-rider team, he's almost certainly going to be elsewhere in 2024. My guess right now would be Red Bull KTM, but I'd imagine just about every team has or will have checked in soon enough. Wouldnt be shocked at all if Sexton ends up being the highest-paid rider in the sport down the road either.
Sexton didn't only just impress outdoors either in 2022, although he was phenomenal in the summer. In just his 14th career 450 Main Event in San Diego, the Illinois native picked up his first career win, while picking up seven additional podiums last year. However, Sexton let one slip through the cracks on the final lap in Minneapolis, losing front grip entering a rhythm section, before launching onto the ensuing tabletop. Outside of that and later on at Detroit, the worst Sexton ran all year was ninth.
In '23, as long as Sexton can limit mistakes, he should be a title contender from the jump. He was the best starter on a 450 period last season and found a completely different gear in Motocross which should hopefully translate to the winter/spring tilt. The biggest thing I'd hope to see out of Sexton though is to have a multi-win season. The year three jump is real in the 450 class, and all the relatively recent ones (Cooper Webb '19, Ryan Villopoto '11, Stewart (So good btw) '07) all resulted in at least six wins and a Championship.
No. 45 Colt Nichols
2022 Supercross Stats: N/A (Injured in Anaheim 1 Heat Race, 2021 250 East Supercross Champion)
Raw deal for Nichols, effectively being forced up to a 450 without taking a single Main Event gate drop in 2022. Luckily for him though, a factory teneeded of a 450 SX-only rider, and the former 250 East Champion was the perfect guy for the job.
Excluding Anaheim 1 last year, Nichols was dynamite the last time we saw him in Supercross. In a 250 East field that consisted of Christian Craig, Jett Lawrence, Jo Shimoda, Austin Forkner, Michael Mosiman, and R.J. Hampshire, he never finished off the podium once. His three-race win streak between Houston 3 and Indianapolis 2 that year ended up tipping the scales in his favor in his battle with Craig and he never looked back.
Now on the big bike for the first time in his career, I think the expectation for Nichols is to compete for top 10s every week and maybe sneak into the top five on occasion. I doubt this gig with HRC will be available next year, but I hope he does well enough to land a more permanent ride down the road. ly has the talent indoors. As for Nichols' new setup, you can expect to see him in an O'Neal kit, A-Star boots, a Bell helmet, and 100% goggles.
Mountain Motorsports/Monster Energy Team Tedder Racing KTM
No. 46 Justin Hill
2022 Supercross Stats: N/A (Returning after a multi-year layoff)
Not quite going off the grid like Blake Baggett, but Justin Hill just disappeared after the end of the 2020 season. It feels like a lifetime ago, but Hill seemed to have a pretty bright future in Supercross. He won the 2017 250 West Supercross Championship by nearly 40 points over Shane McElrath and Aaron Plessinger. Then that next year, ended up winning a 450-class heat race at Tampa on a 250 West off week, finishing sixth in that night's main event with Yoshimura Suzuki.
Talent was never an issue with the younger Hill brother, but things just never materialized how he would have likely wanted. Now, after a two-year layoff, he's back with the Tedder KTM team, a pretty good situation all things considered. Martin Davalos has a respectable 2020 with the team if you may recall. Hill's mishmash gear setup in 2023 will consist of a Fasthouse kit, Bell Helmet, Von Zipper goggles, and Gaerne boots.
No. 751 Josh Hill
2022 Supercross Stats: N/A (Made Three 450 Main Events in 2022, Finished Eighth and Fifth in World Supercross Events)
I feel ancient knowing that I was a whole nine years old when Josh Hill won his first career 450 Main Event.....in 2008. Still keeping himself busy on a motorcycle to this day, both Hill brothers are going to be under the same roof for the first time. Just a few months ago, he got the opportunity to run WSX for the Australian Factory Yamaha squad and did very well, ending up fifth in two round series points standings. There's certainly a step up in competition back stateside, but Hill should be able to make his fair share of night shows. For gear, it'll be all Fox sans for A-Star boots.
Monster Energy Kawasaki
No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo
2022 Supercross Stats: N/A (Underwent year-ending knee surgery after San Diego Supercross)
There have been some snakebitten athletes with injuries all over the place, but AC could be at the top of that list speaking recently. Since moving up to the 450 class in 2020, he's raced in just 18 of 51 possible Supercross events (35 percent). When he's been out there, Cianciarulo has been really good which is the sad part. In those 18 rounds, he has seven Top 5s and three career podiums, which for what is essentially a one-season sample is excellent.
Last season, Cianciarulo came into the year hurt with a shoulder injury, but despite that, led laps in the opening two rounds of the season in Anaheim and Oakland. Then a week later in San Diego, suffered a rough-looking knee injury coming out of the whoops in qualifying. This completely ended his 2022 season, both indoors and out, but that was a smart call by his camp and Kawasaki. He was hurt coming into the year, and by Kawasaki's own admission, AC was right where they wanted him to be pace-wise. Giving him an extended break to fully heal up is going to pay dividends in the coming weeks and months.
No. 21 Jason Anderson
2022 Supercross Stats: 7 Wins, 135 Laps Led, 1 Holeshot, Average Start of 4.3, Average Finish of 4.4, 250 Points (2nd)
If not for the man El Hombre replaced, he would have been the best free-agent pickup of the year by a wide margin. Even then, Anderson was still a monster (pun very much intended) in Supercross a year ago. Multiple career rides put him back in the mix for the title for the first time since 2018, and if not for his problems in Detroit, he may have had a shot in Salt Lake City last year. Even more than the seven wins, the 137 laps Anderson led were insanely impressive. The only riders to beat that number in the last five seasons were Ken Roczen in 2021 (156), and Eli Tomac in 2017 (180). Oddly enough, all three riders finished second in points those seasons as well.
Anderson is also one of several high-profile riders suspected to be in a contract year in 2023. Had Triumph not said their 450 program is still two years out, that would have been perhaps the only popular opinion on where he would be in '24. The chance to work with Bobby Hewitt again would entice Anderson I'd imagine had that been the case. With that said though, Anderson clearly liked the KX450 based on the Supercross season results, and he seemed to be in good spirits all year. I'd guess that he and the team find some fairly easy common ground on a new deal here at some point, for at the minimum one extra year. He should be a title-contending rider for as long as he keeps up what he's been doing. Looking forward to the Team Fried content as well.
Rock River Yamaha
No. 44 Benny Bloss
2022 Supercross Stats: N/A (Missed majority of 2022 Season due to offseason crash)
Bloss is (seven inches shy of being) seven feet tall, and I've been told you can't teach that. Only racing four rounds last season, the big man put up some solid results coming in behind the eight ball, his best result being a 12th in Foxborough. Throughout his career on a 450, Bloss has effectively been a 14th-18th-ish rider in terms of points finish, so that feels like a good benchmark to set him at for '23 with the Rock River squad.
OnlyFans Kawasaki (I'm Dead Serious)
No. 74 Logan Karnow
2022 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start N/A, Average Finish of N/A, 28 Points (27th)
Just to put things into perspective, just four years ago, Chad Reed couldn't show off logos from his then-sponsor cbdMD on his helmet. Now in 2023, Logan Karnow, who had a sponsor leave him high and dry at the worst possible time, has a new backer for his personal program in the form of OnlyFans. Last year, Karnow effectively got through the year with OnlyFans users sponsoring him week-to-week and now has support from the company itself. Really good story and the bike looks pretty good as well.
Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha
No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis
2022 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 10.1, Average Finish of 8.6, 141 Points (11th)
It jumps out right away, but Ferrandis' starts last year were mediocre to put it lightly. His 10.1 average was by far the worst of riders that would be considered contenders. If wants to make the leap in year three like Sexton, that would be a good starting point. Based on his good results from last year, Ferrandis could very conceivably take home a Main Event win or two if he can do so. That part of his racecraft has never been in question.
No. 32 Justin Cooper* - Partial Schedule
2022 Supercross Stats: (Injured in preseason crash and missed entire season)
Cooper's 2023 plans are unorthodox by most standards. After being forced out of the 250 class by way of his 250 Championship in 2021, Star Yamaha is going to only run him for select 450 Supercross rounds this year before he goes full-time in 2024. I'm assuming this is due to financial restraints, but this all sort of comes back to the broken 250-point-out rule. I'd expect Cooper to look good though in however many races he ends up doing.
No. 1 Eli Tomac
2022 Supercross Stats: 7 Wins, 69 Laps Led, 1 Holeshot, Average Start of 5.1, Average Finish of 2.8, 359 Points (2022 450 Supercross Champion)
Welp, as expected, it appears this Supercross season is the curtain call for The Bad Man. Tomac checked off the final accolade he needed with a Motocross Des Nations win last fall and has now effectively hit every major accolade that's obtainable. Of course, there's still the 50-win benchmark to hit, which only Jeremy McGrath and James Stewart (so good by the way) have hit or eclipsed. Going into Anaheim 1, he is six wins shy of 50 and has hit at least six wins in five of the last six seasons.
Outside of that, there's not a whole lot else to say about Tomac. He's the preseason title favorite by default, and is one of the best riders, indoors and outdoors, that I've ever seen. This is as tough a 450 field as I have ever seen, but can Tomac end things akin to the Ryans (Villopoto and Dungey) in their final years? Can't say for sure, but it wouldn't be easy to bet against him. Especially if this 2023 YZ450 is as good as advertised.
Gaffney's 2023 Monster Energy Supercross 450 Class Preseason Power Ranking
10) No. 2 Cooper Webb
9) No. 51 Justin Barcia
8) No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo
7) No. 25 Marvin Musquin
6) No. 94 Ken Roczen
5) No. 28 Christian Craig
4) No. 27 Malcolm Stewart
3) No. 21 Jason Anderson
2) No. 23 Chase Sexton
1) No. 1 Eli Tomac
2022 Monster Energy Supercross 450 Class Championship Pick: Chase Sexton
Main Image via Star Yamaha/Octopi Media