Probably the most significant rider move of the 2022-23 offseason was Christian Craig moving from Monster Energy Star Yamaha to Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing. Five rounds into the 2023 Supercross season, the reigning 250 West Supercross Champion hasn't made much of an impact to this point. He did just pick up his best result of the season just nights ago in Tampa, but that was only a 10th. So what's gone wrong, what's gone, right, and is it time to aggressively slam the panic button yet? Let's take a look.
Rally in Houston
Craig's 11th-place outing at NRG Stadium may have been pedestrian at surface level until you remember he went down immediately off the start and was in second to last to kick things off. Coming out of that opening sweeping left-hander, he was far inside four wide with Dylan Ferrandis, Joey Savatgy, and Chase Sexton, then went down going to his left after making some contact with a tough block.
Where Craig gets credit here is that he was able to make up 10 spots in Houston. The red flag for Ferrandis helped out, but Craig had some back-end top-10 pace that evening. For reference, his average lap time was 54.917, compared to eight-place finisher Ken Roczen, who was at 54.862, and seventh-place finsher Justin Cooper with a 54.852.
Starting Behind the (Twenty) Eight Ball
Poor starts have been a big part of Craig's struggles out of the gate this year, but qualifying pace is right there and somewhat ties in. Simply from the standpoint that leaving time on the board in qualifying will cost you when it comes to Heat Races, and subsequently Main Events in the case of Craig, but firstly, qualifying pace.
Things have gotten much better for Craig in the qualifying department in the first month of the year, but A1 and San Diego went very poorly. At Angel Stadium the first go around, Craig was fifth after the opening session, but dropped to 14th after his best lap in the latter session was nearly three-tenths slower than his session one pass. Two weeks later in San Diego, there was an improvement in between sessions, but marginal, as Craig qualified 12th that evening. Not a coincidence that these were his two worst non-Triple Crown rounds of the season to this point.
As previously stated, qualifying results can completely shape your day/night in either direction, and that has been the case for Craig. In the seven Main Events this season (Triple Crown races included), Craig has had zero starts with a top five gate selection, five starts where he's had a top 10 gate pick, along with a 15th gate pick at A1, and an 11th at Houston. I also don't find it coincidental, that just days ago in Tampa, Craig had a season-best sixth gate pick and ended up with a season-best result. On the same foot, Anaheim 1 was his worst outing of the year, where he had his worst gate pick of the 15th. Regardless, his average start through five rounds is a 16.5, good for 16th in the 450 class.
Given that Craig was a very good starter on a 450 in Motocross last year (most recent 450 class sample size), this comes as a bit of a surprise. Sure the Star Yamaha YZ450 has more bark off the gate than the Husky FC450 isn't bad by any stretch. Malcolm Stewart averaged a start of 5.5 in his two rounds before his injury as well, so it's hard to call this a direct bike issue. Just looking back at the initial starts themselves, Craig is naturally getting pinched or forced wide, but, that is the nature of the beast so to say.
Panic Button Time?
I feel confident in saying that most people expected Craig to be a bit more in the mix of things in 2023, even if that means just competing for podiums, as opposed to wins. Now, would I say it's panic time already? The answer is no, however, the "In case of emergency, break glass" container surrounding the panic button has been shattered as a preparatory measure.
I think Craig can do better than what he's doing right now, and I'd like to think both he and Rockstar Husky team manager Nathan Ramsey are in the same boat. We know the talent is there, finishing sixth or better in the last three 450 outdoor seasons is no joke, not to mention Craig's standout performances his last two years on a 250 indoors. And based on his postrace comments after Tampa, Craig understands where he needs to get better and made it sound like he's still on a good trajectory.
“Overall, Tampa was a step in the right direction. I just need to execute my starts in the main event. I felt like I did everything positive throughout the day. I put myself in good positions. Qualified good, and the heat race was solid. I just didn't execute in the main event. I came from behind, had a small hiccup and fell over early on, and that kind of took the wind out of my sails. But I just tried to put my head down, click some laps off, and ended up tenth. I know I have more in me, we're improving and I just need to do it when it counts.” - via Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing
Main Image via Husqvarna Motorcycles