Atlanta has always been known to produce memorable races as the red Georgia clay and the packed house inside the Georgia Dome bring the best out of riders. Last weekend, it lived up to expectation with another dramatic night of competition that ultimately tightened up the championship battle in the premier class and produced the third first-time winner in as many weeks in the 250SX Class.
Each week, The Holeshot will provide 22 takeaways – a full starting gate – from the most recent round of action.
1. A uniquely challenging layout inside the Georgia Dome resulted in some surprises during the afternoon practice session. To no one’s surprise, James Stewart sat atop the charts, but Justin Brayton and Broc Tickle followed him in second and third. Surprisingly, Ryan Villopoto could only muster the sixth-fastest lap, while Ryan Dungey landed in eighth.
2. As unexpected as practice might have been, once the racing began the cream rose to the top and once again became a battle between the sports’ elite group. Nevertheless, the practice times were added proof about how close the competition has been this season and how deep the field is.
3. Justin Barcia was hoping for big things in Atlanta, his “home” race, particularly after grabbing his first podium the week prior. Unfortunately, Barcia suffered a pair of hard crashes in practice and had to call it quits for the rest of the evening. It’s been a very tough sophomore season for Barcia thus far.
4. The incident between Mike Alessi and Broc Tickle was the biggest moment of the entire night and could have been even more significant had one or both riders failed to make the main event. Fortunately, everything worked out and the pair ended up posting solid finishes.
5. Sure Alessi was in the wrong, but it didn’t look as blatant as it was presented. He shouldn’t have been in such a position to begin with but he didn’t enter the corner looking to take Tickle out, as it served no benefit to him either. It was a moment of terrible judgment by Alessi, but he did all he could in taking blame. However, based on his past history with controversial incidents, it’s understandable why things unfolded the way they did.
6. Was the fine on Alessi deserved? In my opinion something needed to be done, but its too hard to say what the punishment should have been. NASCAR has often established precedent with certain incidents to essentially send the message that overly aggressive racing will not be tolerated. I think the AMA was in a similar position with Alessi and did what it felt had to be done to ensure riders know there will be consequences for their actions.
7. Alessi bounced back from the drama to grab the holeshot and lead the first five laps of the main event. As fate would have it, he had to fend of Tickle at the end of the race, but they both kept their cool. Although he didn’t try to retaliate, Tickle surely won’t forget the incident.
8. Atlanta had the makings of being a dominant outing by Stewart, but he tucked the front end on the opening lap and had to go into survival mode. The fact that Stewart could only climb back to 11th is a sign of how tough the track was in Atlanta. It also served as a huge blow to his title hopes.
9. Stewart now sits 26 points behind Villopoto and lost all the momentum he had going into Atlanta. With nine races left in the championship anything can still happen, but Stewart’s officially out of mulligans.
10. Stewart’s misfortune worked in Dungey’s favor as he not only secured a podium result, he also moved to within four points of Stewart in the championship. Dungey still really needs a win, but he’s got things going in the right direction.
11. It’s likely not a coincidence that Aldon Baker trains the top three riders in supercross right now – Villopoto, Roczen, and Adam Cianciarulo. With a résumé of clients that has included Stewart and Carmichael, Baker is the real deal and his riders are proving his approach to the sport works well.
12. The Villopoto, Roczen showdown could have been a sign of things to come. Each rider made mistakes while trying to hold each other at bay and now they’ve cemented themselves as the lead duo in the title fight. Roczen’s win was a much-needed one to prove that Anaheim 1 wasn’t a fluke and show he’s in this to win it. While it remains to be seen how he’ll fare the deeper we get into the season, Roczen is stepping up to the plate when he needs to.
13. On the flip side, there doesn’t appear to be any major sense of urgency in Villopoto’s riding. While it could be argued that things may not be completely dialed in for the champ, it could also be a strategic play based on the current points standings. Villopoto is going to be in the hunt for a podium every week and he’s bound to grab a couple more wins in the near future. There’s no sense in him risking everything just for a victory, especially when he has control of the red plate. He made a mistake in Atlanta and knew second was as good as first in the big picture.
14. Wil Hahn quietly grabbed the best finish of his career in Atlanta, which also was the site of his first career win in the 250SX Class one year ago. Some riders thrive at certain venues and it appears as though Wil and the Georgia Dome just go hand in hand.
15. It took nearly a decade and way too many “close calls,” but Martin Davalos can finally call himself a supercross winner. Davalos was on point in Atlanta and dominated en route to victory. He’s been exceptionally fast through the first two weeks and could be building a run at the points lead. Usually when that weight of the first win is off, the success snowballs. Just ask Wil Hahn.
16. The weight of the red plate looked like it could prove difficult for Adam Cianciarulo following his heat race, but the rookie recovered nicely and wrapped up another podium. Cianciarulo has already established himself as a holeshot machine, which would only make it harder for anyone to catch him and put a dent in his points lead.
17. GEICO Honda hasn’t had the type of results it was hoping for in 2014, but Justin Bogle’s podium finish was no doubt the team’s highlight of the season. Especially considering what Bogle had to overcome just to be ready to race the East Region.
18. Blake Baggett turned a potential nightmare into an impressive come-from-behind effort in Atlanta. Baggett entered the first turn in dead last following some contact out of the gate, but managed to pass 17 riders and come home fifth. It will be interesting to see how that ride plays into this continued title fight.
19. While Baggett avoided nightmare, Jeremy Martin is in the midst of one. For the second week the sophomore rider failed to qualify for the main event. He’s plenty fast, but things just seem to continue to go wrong for him once the racing begins. Any hopes of a title are surely gone now, but perhaps the lack of pressure could work into Martin’s favor moving forward.
20. The Star Racing team is going to need Martin to turn things around quickly as his teammate Anthony Rodriguez crashed out of his second straight main event and suffered an injury that will take him out of action.
21. Pro Circuit’s potential to sweep the podium at each round came to a quick end, but each of its three riders have so much confidence right now that it’s going to be tough for anyone other than Cianciarulo, Davalos, or Baggett to come away with a win.
22. Not only has Pro Circuit won four consecutive main events dating back to the final two races of the West Region, it’s also produced three straight first-time winners.