Cooksey, Straight To The Point: 450 SX Preview

“Championship Four”

While we have many riders prepping for the 450 title chase in the upcoming 2019 Monster Energy Supercross series, in my estimation, only four have a legitimate chance to finish as champion. There are only a few times in the history of the 44-year-old series where the preseason favorite didn't end up as series champion. These exceptions (Stanton in ‘89, McGrath's ‘93 season, Dungey's rookie campaign in ‘10, Villopoto in ‘11, and Anderson in ‘17) won in the end. Beyond weird injuries or a rookie standout performance, one of the following four riders will likely be the 2019 champion; Jason Anderson, Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen or Marvin Musquin. While I’m not a math major, I put “Vegas” odds at about 90%  that one of these four riders will be holding the number one plate at the finale in Las Vegas.

Let’s start with the most enigmatic rider of this era, Eli Tomac. This year is crucial to his legacy. I hate to use the word “legacy” while a rider is still in his prime, but how will Tomac be remembered if he never wins a 450 Supercross Championship? He has been incredibly successful, but he will never be considered one of the sport’s greatest without at least one Supercross Championship. Tomac passed both Damon Bradshaw and Kevin Windham on the all-time SX wins list last year, and everyone ahead of Tomac on the all-time wins list has at least two SX Championships to their credit. Will his legacy be “best rider without a SX Championship”? If Eli wins eight races in 2019 (like he did in ‘18), he’ll pass both Bob Hannah and Ricky Johnson on the all-time win list, and it seems unthinkable that he could do this without a championship. Rumor has it that Tomac had a significant amount of time off the bike this offseason due to an injury, and honestly I think that may help him if he is close to 100% by Anaheim 1. It could be the distraction that keeps him from sabotaging himself.

Eli Tomac.

The defending champion, Jason Anderson, is out to prove he didn’t win his championship on “luck.” To those who say his title was a fluke, I say show me a champion who didn’t get a little help from luck? Jason wasn’t always the best guy, but he was consistently the best guy. Having the #1 plate might make some riders a target, but I think Anderson feeds off the challenge. I see Anderson as a guy who needs a little extra incentive and proving the naysayers wrong might be just what the doctor ordered for the 2019 series. He proved last year that he can sustain his success throughout the entire series, so expect him to be in the hunt until the end.

Jason Anderson.

Ken Roczen is an athlete who can transcend the sport, he has the looks and style to run elbow-to-elbow with the stars of the four major stick and ball sports. That he has made it back from both of his horrific arm and hand injuries is amazing!  In the 2018 SX series he looked like he was just starting to find his groove when he let a social media feud with Cooper Webb spill onto the track at San Diego. While the image from San Diego with Roczen trapped in Webb’s back wheel haunts my dreams, it might have been a blessing in disguise and it was a good disguise!  At the time it looked like another possibly career-ending injury for the young German rider, but he was able to return to form by the outdoor nationals. The extra time off helped his left arm gain strength and he is on the verge of regaining the championship form he showed just two short years ago. Roczen hasn’t raced all offseason, so coming into Anaheim there is an aura of mystery surrounding him. He did get married during the time off, and sometimes personal life stability shows in results.  Is 2019 the year he takes the throne for which he seemed destined?

Ken Roczen and Jason Anderson.

The last of the four major contenders is the friendly French assassin Marvin Musquin.  He has quietly finished third and second in the season standings over the past two years, while winning eight career races, one more than last year’s champion Jason Anderson. Don’t let his polite well-mannered demeanor fool you, he can bang bars with the best of them. If you don’t believe me, play back the last lap at Foxborough when he promptly put Eli Tomac on his ass while battling for the win. Unfortunately, Marvin has been dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of the Paris Supercross.  He should be 100% by Anaheim, but these things have a way of throwing off an entire offseason preparation. Hopefully he is healthy enough to get in his regular offseason boot camp, because winning in 2019 is no easy task.

Marvin Musquin.

I have teased reasons why each of these four guys could win the championship and with a little luck I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four riders ends up on top.  Being that I am a gambling man residing in Las Vegas, my money is on Eli Tomac. I can’t imagine a guy winning as many races as he has and not ending the series as champion at least once.  With that said, if Eli doesn’t win the championship in 2019, I don’t think he ever will.

Longshots

Everyone in and around the industry has already crowned either Tomac, Anderson, Musquin or Roczen as the 2019 Supercross champion, and I agree.  Although it’s unlikely someone outside of these four will take the crown, there’s no doubt the 2019 Supercross season will produce some unexpected results. When dealing with younger athletes, they often have the ability to gain large and unexpected improvements from year-to-year. While I don’t expect any longshots to cash in, here are a few of the most likely candidates.
 
Justin Barcia probably won’t be battling for wins every weekend, but he could easily grab one or two. Oftentimes when a rider wins they start believing they should win and they do. If the stars align and Barcia gets a win early in the series, he could very well cash in as a longshot. Barcia has found a career resurgence at Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing and is proving that his YZ 450F is a very capable machine.  Going into the 2018 season, Factory Yamaha was heavily criticized by what felt like everyone. Cooper Webb was supposed to put them back on the map, but it was Barcia who saved their reputation.  Coming into 2019 after a full off-season of testing I would be very surprised (but not shocked) if Barcia ends up as champion.

Justin Barcia.

The field in 2019 has the largest infusion of rookie talent in quite some time, but it’s a couple of older riders that are drawing most of the attention. Chad Reed is looking to stretch the career window for Supercross racers as he enters this season at 36 years old, turning 37 in March. If Reed has success, combined with Justin Brayton’s mid-30s surge, they could change the way teams view age. Still, it would take nothing short of a miracle for either of these guys to be crowned champion in 2019. They fall into my one in a million category, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance” - Lloyd Christmas (from Dumb and Dumber). 

Chad Reed.

Joey Savatgy is making his regular series debut on a 450 and I fully expect him to be in the hunt and near the podium regularly.  His style fits the 450 machines perfectly, as we saw on display at the Monster Energy Cup when he gracefully pulled aside, allowing his teammate, Eli Tomac, to take home the million dollar prize. A couple other rookies, Justin Hill and Aaron Plessinger, have me guessing as to how they will fare at Anaheim 1. Hill no doubt has the talent to be an elite rider battling for wins (remember Tampa last year?), but does he have the mental strength to battle with a savage like Eli Tomac week in and week out?  As of right now I don’t think so, but I hear he is working very hard this offseason. 

Aaron Plessinger is the “next” talented 250 rider to jump aboard with Yamaha, and he also inherits the hype and expectations Cooper Webb failed to deliver. His offseason has been bumpy and we we’ll be seeing his 450 debut at A1, as a crash and minor back injury kept him from competing in the Geneva Supercross. I ask, has there ever been such a thing as a minor back injury? In my experience anything involving your spine is somewhat serious. The good news is, he’s been back on the bike for a week or two. Even if Plessinger is 100% heading into Anaheim he needs to figure out the endurance issues that surfaced late last year. Moving to 450 requires additional strength and fitness, and while I am confident Plessinger will have a successful 450 career, I also think he needs time to develop.

Aaron Plessinger.

Looking at the riders scheduled to line up at Anaheim there are many talented and experienced riders throughout the field.  Heading into A1, the 2019 field has a bunch of world-class talent. I’ve mentioned nine riders, and that doesn’t even include Malcom Stewart (looking in shape), Cole Seely (returning from injury), Dean Wilson (looking to prove everyone wrong), Blake Baggett (always fast at the test track), Cooper Webb (now on Red Bull KTM), Zach Osborne (a proven champion...in the 250 class), Justin Bogle (filling in for the injured Benny Bloss on Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/KTM/WPS), Vince Friese (still getting better), and Tyler Bowers (looking to prove he is more than an ex-Arenacross star). This field of riders will produce some amazing racing in 2019, so sit back and enjoy!

Malcolm Stewart.

Chris Cooksey is life-long motocross enthusiast, racing professionally in arenacross, motocross and supermoto. Chris obtained his degree from Arizona State, majoring in business and communications. After college Chris immersed himself in the business and social media aspects of the industry. Chris enjoys sharing his opinions. Sit back and enjoy the view from his perspective.

You can follow Chris on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook.

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