The 2018 Monster Energy Supercross series begins the second-half of the season on Saturday in Atlanta and if it offers just half of the intrigue the last eight rounds provided, expect a wild ride to the finish.
Jason Anderson continues to roll and benefit from attrition while Eli Tomac works to salvage a season he's unlikely to emerge as Champion and Marvin Musquin, now in second-place in the 450 class standings, better ride with proficiency to break the current curse affecting those entering race day in the runner-up spot.
Whoever wins Round 9 on Saturday inaugurates the first Supercross battle in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium which replaced the long used Georgia Dome, now a pile of rubble. Ryan Dungey decimated the field last year in the Georgia Dome's farewell race as he grabbed the holeshot and led wire to wire beating Tomac. Blake Baggett took third, his only podium for 2017, with Anderson in fourth and Musquin in fifth.
Jason Anderson has built a solid points lead halfway through the season
This year, Anderson rides the Red Plate for the sixth straight round and he summons a bit of the retired Dungey, who won only twice last year but managed the points race for the title. Anderson does not need to win any more this year - he has three victories - as long as he continues piling on the Top 4s where he has finished all season. He took third last week. One after another, the rider in second-place entering any given round has either suffered a bad ride or crashed out of the season, except Anderson, who won Round 2 after a second-place finish to start the season.
Ken Roczen entered Round 3 in second, just seven points back from Anderson, only to suffer some nerves for the anniversary race of his 2017 crash and dropped to fourth in the standings after a ninth-place Anaheim 2 finish. He got back into second-place after Round 5, just 15 points back from Anderson, only to break his hand in a season ending tangle with Cooper Webb in San Diego. Justin Barcia, entered Round 5, nine points back from Anderson, finished fifth and fell to third in the standings. After Roczen's season-ending crash Barcia filled in for second, now 28 points behind Anderson, then broke his hand in a Heat race crash. This allowed Cole Seely to pop into second-place where he was after Round 3 before finishing 12th in Round 4 which dropped him to fifth and like those who proceeded him, Seely's presence in second ended again, rather abruptly, after a hard get-off last week in his Heat race finished his season with multiple broken bones.
Get all that?
Hopefully Musquin doesn't own a black cat. Although second-place fits him well, at least for race finishes. Since his Heat race crash that left him idle for Round 2, Musquin has climbed back into contention taking second-place in the last three rounds. However, at 39 points from first, he needs wins and lots of them plus a few bad rounds from Anderson to push the 2018 title fight to Las Vegas.
Marvin Musquin (R) is in mid-season form and gave some schooling to the hungry 250SX West class rider Justin Hill (L) who is making the 450 jump for a few rounds
Elsewhere, Baggett lost some momentum last week after stringing together three straight podiums before finishing ninth in Tampa, which mostly equals his average for the five rounds this season he didn't finish on the podium. Atlanta brings good vibes however and if the second-place spell affects Musquin, Baggett can easily make up the eight point deficit and get behind Anderson after Saturday. But he does so at his own risk for the following round.
Just 12 points separate fourth through ninth-place with veteran Justin Brayton leading the mid-packers, but he comes into Atlanta off his two worst finishes of the season - eighth-place the last two rounds. He's tied in points with Weston Peick who also just tied his worst finish of the season in 10th. Seely is sixth and Barcia ninth which means some significant shuffling in the standings after Atlanta. Webb, Tomac and Brock Tickle all have opportunity to move up several spots. A fifth Tomac win for the season could put him into third-place for points but he has yet to string together three straight wins.
A true up-and-down season so far for Eli Tomac who has four wins, two DNFs and one DNS
In total, four Top 10 riders have crashed out - Seely, Roczen, Barcia and Josh Grant - leaving the field somewhat depleted. However, Justin Hill, currently defending his 250SX West title he probably can't win thanks to a slow start, qualified first last week and battled up front before settling on sixth. He's back for Atlanta on the big bike.
In the 250SX East class, Austin Forkner comes in hot with his first career Supercross victory last week but it mostly means little with defending Champion Zach Osborne looking for back-to-back Atlanta wins. Osborne finished third last week enough to keep the Red Plate for Saturday. Dylan Ferrandis also made a statement finishing less than a second behind Forkner.
Can Austin Forkner make it back-to-back wins?
Finally, Colt Nichols lost his season opening momentum following his second-place start with a ninth-place in Atlanta. He took third last year in Atlanta his best showing in an injury shortened 2017 season. RJ Hampshire has two holeshots for the year but no podiums. Consecutive fourth-place results have him third for points. Keep an eye on Jordon Smith and Jeremy Martin, sixth- and eighth-place, respectively. Somewhere a keg fills with powder.
Our Podium Picks for Atlanta:
- Jason Anderson
- Cooper Webb
- Broc Tickle
250SX East Class:
- Zach Osborne
- RJ Hampshire
- Austin Forkner
Check out the track map for Round 9:
Practice for Atlanta starts at 12 p.m. (EST) with the Main at 7 p.m. (EST) on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Dome. Buy tickets online or at the box office. Sunny and cool with a high in the low 60s and mid-30s at night.
2018 Supercross Season Standings
- Jason Anderson (181)
- Marvin Musquin (142)
- Blake Baggett (134)
- Justin Brayton (125)
- Weston Peick (125)
- Cole Seely (124)
- Eli Tomac (116)
- Broc Tickle (114)
- Justin Barcia (113)
- Cooper Webb (108)
250SX East Class
- Zach Osborne (47)
- Austin Forkner (42)
- RJ Hampshire (38)
- Colt Nichols (37)
- James Decotis (34)
- Jordon Smith (34)
- Luke Renzland (30)
- Jeremy Martin (29)
- Dylan Ferrandis (28)
- Cameron McAdoo (25)