2017 Supercross Week 4 -- By-The-Numbers Recap: Phoenix
Just when we all thought that Ryan Dungey had a clear path to the season championship, Eli Tomac exploded back into the race. There is still a decent points gap -- 20 -- but at least there's a stay of execution for the 2017 Supercross season.
(Note: now interactive, so hover over the lines to see the Rider/Lap/Position.)
--Also new, at the very bottom of the article, a laptimes tool to see times of any rider or riders--
Tomac was fast, that was clear from the get go. 4 of Tomac's first 7 laps were faster than ANY lap from ANY other rider over the whole race. His time for Lap 12 was also faster than ANY lap from ANY other rider. Just to make sure, as the gap was closing a bit near the end of the race, Tomac put down a lap of 1:00.599, which was faster than any lap from anyone other than Dungey, Chad Reed, and Davi Millsaps (and wasn't much slower than their fastest laps).
Dungey's fastest - 1:00.238
Reed's fastest - 1:00.230
Millsaps's fastest - 1:00.315
We probably all remember when Tomac did this before -- in 2016 he was looking a bit off, with many finishes off the podium, then he blew everyone away at Daytona. Unfortunately for Tomac, he couldn't keep the momentum going, as he finished the next 5 races outside the podium (5 / 5 / 7 / 9 / 7). How did that Daytona 2016 win compare to this one at Phoenix? Is there any indication that Tomac's performance tonight is different -- that is, more likely to continue into the rest of the season?
Well, for one, at Daytona 2016 the lead over Dungey was 2 seconds at the end and several seconds throughout most of the race. The next closest finisher, Marvin Musquin, was 20 seconds back. In this case at Phoenix, on the other hand, Tomac finished 11 seconds ahead of Reed and 16 seconds ahead of Dungey. And, Tomac was pacing the field by 16+ seconds for much of the race.
If we look back at Daytona 2016, you can see that while Tomac had a convincing win, he traded many laps with Dungey, from start to finish. A few times 3rd place (Musquin) and 4th place (Jason Anderson) finishers put in laps that were faster than Tomac's (laps 6, 8, and 9). (Pardon the format, it's from a long time ago.)
Fast forward to Phoenix 2017, and Tomac was considerably faster than 2nd place (Reed) and 3rd place (Dungey) finishers through Lap 8:
Something odd happened in laps 9, 10, and 12 -- on Lap 9, Reed was 2 seconds slower than his previous lap, on Lap 10, Tomac was 2 seconds slower than his Lap 8, and on Lap 12, Dungey was nearly 2 seconds slower than his previous lap. Maybe there was a yellow flag that I didn't notice while watching, but there weren't any major crashes around that time in race.
Putting that aside, Tomac rode a similar speed to Reed and Dungey in laps 13, 14, and 15, then seemed to cruise for a bit through Lap 19, where in each lap he was about 2 seconds off of his typical lap time prior to that. As mentioned, he then laid down one more very fast lap in Lap 20, followed by a relaxed final lap leading to the checkers.
Compared to series leader Dungey, Tomac was faster in 8 of 20 laps at Daytona 2016 (8 of 15 if you ignore likely "cruising" laps) and faster in 15 of 21 laps at Phoenix 2017 (15 of 17 if you figure Tomac was intentionally running a bit slow for 4 laps toward the end of the race). Not an exact science, but gives a decent estimate in constrasting how solid Tomac's performance was this year versus last.
For the sake of competition the rest of the way during the 2017 season, let's hope that beating the current leader (Ryan Dungey in both cases) by 16+ seconds forecasts more likely success than the 2+ second win from 2016.
The Forgotten Man In 4th
Cole Seely entered Week 4 as possibly the most likely challenger to Dungey -- he had kept Dungey at bay for a good portion of Anaheim 2 but slipped to 3rd behind Musquin. Again at Phoenix, Seely pulled out ahead of Dungey, running in 2nd through Lap 10. At that point, though, he slipped 2 spots to 4th, behind Reed and Dungey. As a Dungey challenger, Seely didn't pass the test on what seemed like a bit of an off day for Dungey:
Through the first half of the race, Seely kept pace, but in the latter half, Dungey was quite a bit faster. Seely seems to be improving as he gets more seat time, with results generally improving as the season has gone along. He may not be ready to challenge Dungey yet, but he's at least been consistently within striking distance, which after Phoenix is something that other potential challengers Musquin and Anderson can no longer say.
The Surprises (just when I thought we were getting to know who these riders are)
Over the initial 3 weeks, Reed's results had improved from 20th to 9th to 7th, which I figured meant he had stabilized around the back half of the Top 10. But then he goes and puts in a race that was heads and tails above anything he's shown this season. He battled Dungey most of the race and was faster than Dungey in 15 of 21 laps.
Maybe a 5th place result for Millsaps isn't a "surprise" since he's finished 7 / 8 / 9 so far. He also qualified 3rd and won his Heat Race, which makes for a pretty impressive day. Add in that only 3 riders had faster laps than Millsaps's fastest, and maybe Millsaps needs to be considered a Top 5 contender each week.
Justin Brayton finishing 6th, though, has to be a surprise. While he's no stranger to this kind of finish (finished 6th or better 3 times in 2016), his 2017 had been off to a pretty bad start (for him) with results of 15 / 17 / 13. At Phoenix he qualified 7th and was 2nd in his Heat Race, so it's not like his good start in the Main Event was out of the blue (2nd after the opening section and held on to 2nd through Lap 1 and was in 3rd through Lap 3). The fast laps persisted after his hot start -- it's not as if typical Top 5 riders like Musquin or Anderson were outpacing him in the latter half:
Blake Baggett also put up his best finish of the young season, in 7th, which was something of a surprise considering that he'd been 14th, 20th, and 10th in the 3 races so far. Maybe more surprising than his 7th place finish was that he qualified 1st. Many said that Baggett looked fast in his training leading up to the season opener, but crashes had held him back in the first 2 weeks. Maybe things are starting to click for him.
Guys Who You'd Think Would Be In The Top 5
Cooper Webb had a decent day leading up to his 8th place in the Main Event -- he qualified 2nd and easily won his Semi Race. That skips over the Heat Race, where he was running in 4th during the final lap, but got knocked down by Anderson in the turn following the sand section. Webb didn't get a great start at the Main Event, but even so, he was running slower than, say, Seely or Millsaps, who would be guys Webb needs to beat if he wants to be a consistent Top 5 (or better yet, podium) guy:
Musquin couldn't fare any better, coming in 9th. He was also doomed by a slow start (13th in the opening section) but couldn't make much headway as he was locked in battles with Webb and Anderson through most of the race. Anderson finished 10th, and complained before the race that his arm was still hurting from last week's crash (the one in the tunnel?), but he did seem off his game. Neither Anderson nor Musquin were riding at the same pace as Brayton, as seen in the earlier graph, but that's definitely unexpected considering Musquin had yet to finish off the podium in 2017 and Anderson was 4th in both races that he finished.
The Other Rookie
Malcolm Stewart again started the day looking like shaking off the rust wasn't really going to be a problem. He qualified 10th (not great) but was 2nd in his Heat Race. He got off to a good start in the Main Event, getting through the opening section in 4th then falling back to 7th. He had worked his way up to 5th when he was run into a Tuff Block by Millsaps in a corner where many block passes were made and the shape of the turn caused several riders to go down. Unfortunately for Malcolm, his bike got caught in a weird position, between 2 Tuff Blocks and pointing off the course) and it took him a long time to get up and going, dropping back to 20th. He made his way through the crowd to finish 14th.
Other than the crash, which was not entirely his fault, he ran a similar pace to the riders who finished directly in front of him -- Dean Wilson, Broc Tickle, and Josh Grant:
In fact, Stewart's best lap time was the fastest of that group. It does look like Stewart's laptimes tailed off a little bit at the end, but that could be because of fitness he still needs to build up, or because he was comfortably in 14th with little chance to improve his position.
- Jake Weimer had a crash in the opening Lap, dropping him to the back of the pack and he finished a season-worst 21st.
- Beyond than that, there weren't many "others" of note since most everyone finished about as expected.
Just when we thought everyone had settled in and 2017 was moving toward a foregone conclusion, Eli Tomac shakes things up with a dominant win, while Chad Reed comes out of nowhere with a 2nd place finish, and all of a sudden things are far from certain. Throw in Millsaps, Brayton, and Baggett with their best finishes of the year, and there's a whole lot left to be figured out for this year's Supercross season.