Daytona is as brutal as they come and it’s for that very reason why the winners of the prestigious event are a who’s who of the sport. Last Saturday night, a pair of familiar faces with past success at the World Center of Racing stood atop the podium. With this big test now out of the way for the world’s best riders, the 2014 Monster Energy Supercross season now hits the home stretch and, unfortunately for the 450SX Class field, time is not on their side as they look to track down Ryan Villopoto.
Each week, The Holeshot will provide 22 takeaways – a full starting gate – from the most recent round of action.
1. Everyone enters Daytona well aware that it’s going to be tough and will force you to give everything you’ve got in order to succeed. However, the track surface seemed to deteriorate much quicker this year and resulted in an even greater challenge than normal.
2. There’s almost always one obstacle at Daytona that invites the fearless riders to chuck themselves into the air, and it was present this season in the form of a small wall followed by a couple rollers. In practice, several riders turned it into a triple, launching upwards of 30 feet in the air. However, by the time the main event rolled around, it had become so rutted and broken down that the increased risk simply wasn’t worth the minimal amount of time gained, if any.
3. Even though it didn’t really play into anyone’s favor, a few riders still gave the massive jump a go in the heat races, and it never got old to see a rider go sky-high with hopes of gaining an inch. It was even more enjoyable to hear the joy it brought the crowd.
4. Speaking of the crowd, you have to argue that this was Daytona’s largest in a really long time. The heart of the frontstretch grandstand was absolutely packed and it confirmed that Bike Week at Daytona is now officially all about supercross rather than superbikes.
5. The red-lined track serves as a massive billboard for Honda and is a dramatic change of pace from the norm at the other 16 supercross events. Yet, unfortunately for the red riders, Kawasaki ate up pretty much every second of airtime on Saturday night, thanks to their dominance in both classes. The only highlight Honda had was a controversial one when Malcolm Stewart and Justin Barcia came together.
6. That incident wasn’t a surprise to me one bit. There aren’t any two riders in this sport more aggressive and hard-nosed than Mookie and BamBam and it’s one of the reasons why they’re so fun to watch. Both riders show no intimidation and they’re always willing to take any hole given to them. Ultimately, I think Barcia tucked his front end, which in turn took both riders down. But the bursts of emotion afterwards were priceless. Mookie’s shove also ended up costing him $5,000.
7. A HUGE night for Dean Wilson in just his second career 450SX Class start, no matter what the end result showed. He made a big statement by the way he paced practice and fended off James Stewart in his heat race as if he was a seasoned vet. I don’t think anyone can understand how difficult it truly is to keep the pace of today’s elite unless they’ve actually had the opportunity to do so, thus I think Wilson’s hold on second for 15 laps cemented that the future is promising for the Scotsman. The TwoTwo Motorsports experiment seems to be paying off pretty well so far.
8. Had Wilson not given way to Villopoto on the opening lap, I wonder how much the dynamic of the race would have changed. RV’s surge into the lead was the kind of thing only he and Stewart would do and it paid off. RV’s patented move is to sprint away from the field in the opening laps to establish a gap and, because Wilson simply tried to keep up, he very well could have exerted way too much energy in just a matter of minutes.
9. All credit to Villopoto with win number three. He needed to make a statement and solidify that he’s got things under control, and there couldn’t be a better place to crush his rivals’ hopes than at Daytona. It was vintage Villopoto and now the rest of the field is going to be left scrambling from here on out.
10. A tremendously solid night for KTM with both Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey on the podium. Both riders needed a good ride, but for different reasons. Roczen needed to bounce back from his DNF in Indy desperately just to stay in the title hunt and not lose momentum, while Dungey needed to back up his win with a strong ride to keep the confidence brewing and keep progressing. With the toughest race now out of the way and a big point deficit, don’t be surprised to see both riders start to open things up a bit moving forward.
11. While the championship-leading trio expectedly topped the charts, Stewart’s midseason woes continued. Mere weeks after establishing himself as the hottest rider in the series, Stewart just can’t seem to cut a break. Since he went down in Atlanta, Stewart hasn’t been a factor whatsoever. In Daytona he tore off his header pipe out of the holeshot and limped home in 18th to give him finishes of 11th, 7th and 18th in the last three weeks.
12. Following his second win of the year in Dallas about a month ago, Stewart sat 14 points behind Villopoto. Now he’s 52 out of the lead. That 38-point swing goes to show you how harsh this sport can be.
13. The reality surrounding Stewart’s recent fortunes is the primary reason why, with a point lead greater than one race, Villopoto isn’t a sure lock for a fourth consecutive crown. Luck can always turn around abruptly, and Villopoto knows that probably better than anyone.
14. The unsung hero of the Daytona round has to go to Broc Tickle. The RCH rider has really hit his stride since the championship headed east and he grabbed his best finish of his career last weekend in fourth. That ride was made even sweeter knowing his boss openly said on the broadcast that Tickle simply wasn’t feeling it that night.
15. In the 250SX Class, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Pro Circuit go 1-2-3 for the second time this season. If not for a pair of bad starts by Blake Baggett the last two weeks, I think this squad would have easily swept every podium thus far. It’s incredible to see how much higher their level is right now compared to the rest of the field.
16. Baggett’s dominance also wasn’t surprising. He is a rider that thrives when conditions seem to be at their worst. It helped him win a national motocross title in 2012 and it’s why he loves racing Daytona. It suits his style almost perfectly and it’s why a swollen, banged up thumb couldn’t even slow him down.
17. In arguably his toughest test this season, Adam Cianciarulo once again rose to the occasion. I think many are wondering in the back of their mind if he can maintain this incredible pace and composure the entire season. No matter how talented, rookies simply don’t make things look this easy. However, AC is living up to the hype and I haven’t seen an instance yet in which his confidence appeared to waver. He’s going to be tough to beat.
18. In four career supercross starts, Cianciarulo has a worst finish of second with two wins. Trey Canard had a pretty incredible rookie season in 2008, and what Chad Reed and Ernesto Fonseca did in their first year on U.S. soil was even more impressive. However, what Cianciarulo is doing is special, particularly because he had some doubt coming into 2014 after a tough motocross debut last summer.
19. With his third place result, I think we saw Martin Davalos fall to a level below his teammates for the first time this season. Up until Daytona, bad luck was the only thing that had kept Martin from an unblemished record. He still started up front and remains the only rider to lead a lap in every main event and stand undefeated in heat races. However, he was nowhere near at the level of his teammates in Daytona and openly admitted he still has some work to do at home.
20. It hasn’t been a good start to the season for sophomore rider Jeremy Martin, but his return to the site of his first career podium ultimately led to his best performance of the season in sixth. Now he can officially move on from the nightmare that started his 2014 campaign and get some positive results.
21. Given how dominant he was in Daytona, I can’t help but think that Villopoto is primed to go on a tear given past history. These final couple months are when he really takes things to another level.
22. Many big name riders took some big hits during practice in Daytona, and it very well could have cost Eli Tomac the rest of his rookie season after reinjuring his bum shoulder. But the most notable incidents surrounded Villopoto and Baggett and, ironically enough, they both walked away victorious. Like I said, Daytona is tough and it will make a rider earn his success. It takes a special kind of competitor to take those blows and keep fighting back harder.