The Good: Justin Cooper | 2nd Place
Compared to the first two rounds of the season, Justin's performance at Anaheim 2 was very subdued. He qualified fifth, got third in his heat, and then he didn't get a great start in the Main Event and was hardly ever shown on the broadcast. Look at the final results, though, and he ended up in second place. While I do think it's pretty clear that without Christian Craig, Jett Lawrence, and Austin Forkner having issues, he wouldn't have finished in the position he did. Justin rode a smart race, and now he has a 12 point cushion over Dylan Ferrandis heading into Glendale. He didn't ride over his head when he realized he didn't have the speed of the other guys and end up crashing himself out of championship contention. He took what was given to him, and turned what would have been a decent salvage night into something much better. With that being said, Dylan Ferrandis looks like he has flipped the switch...and Justin is going to have to consistently beat him throughout the remainder of the series or risk bleeding out his points lead.
The Good with a Shade of Bad: Dylan Ferrandis | 1st Place
It was a wild Main Event, but there's no doubt that the most talked-about moment occurred between Dylan Ferrandis and Christian Craig. Dylan had turned on the afterburners and closed up on Christian very quickly. Dylan then scrubbed hard over the finish line and shot to the inside of Christian. They both went down, Christian took a harder hit than Dylan, and that was it for Christian's race as Dylan went on to win. After the race, Dylan said that he realized a little too late that he wasn't going to clear (be ahead of) Christian and so he tried to lean the bike over, but he slid out, which made the impact more violent than intended. I don't think we have any reason not to believe Dylan's explanation here. However, I do believe that the move he was trying to make reeked of desperation, and there was no need for it. There's no doubt in my mind that he would have made the pass on Christian later on in that lap had contact not been made. He was lapping much faster at that point, and Dylan even acknowledged that he closed up on him faster than expected. This was right around the halfway point in the race, too, so it's not like he was pushing for a final two or three lap sprint towards the front. And seeing how it doesn't really make sense to me at all why he tried to make the pass there, I just think the frustration from the first two rounds had built up so much that he was going for any opening he saw on guys because he felt he needed to get to the front now. I don't think there was truly any ill-intent, but he made a severe lapse in judgment that resulted in a firestorm of hate from "fans" that he could never have anticipated. It's perfectly fine to have a problem with the move he made, and civil discussions about whether or not it was dirty are welcome with open arms. But to post hateful comments on social media or our forum about him, his wife, their nationality, or any other personal aspects of them is downright repugnant. There is no legitimate defense for being purely hateful towards him or his wife in this situation. I don't think he should have gone for the pass there, either, but c'mon people...
With that being said, Dylan now sits 12 points behind Justin Cooper in the title chase and will have to win several more times to successfully defend his title. He has also been placed on probation for a year, and I'd bet that any passes he makes on other riders over the next few weeks will be extra clean to show people that he isn't that kind of rider.
The Bad: Austin Forkner | 17th place
Austin Forkner is starting to build a reputation for himself, and I don't think it's the kind of status he wants to have. That reputation is that he may very well be the fastest and most talented guy on the 250 circuit, but he always beats himself. Austin Forkner is always the one to take Austin Forkner out of races, and ultimately, championships. He's still young enough to rectify this trend and become what we all know he can be, but he has got to figure it out relatively soon, or he's going to get seriously hurt at some point. Going fast and crashing every other time he's on the track is just not sustainable, ask Adam Cianciarulo about his early 250 career. Speed was never Adam's problem, crashes and durability were. Adam plunged to some pretty low depths mentally because of it, too, but he was able to figure it out, and since 2018 we haven't seen him crash much at all (except for Las Vegas 2019, sorry Adam). The whoops are clearly Austin's biggest weakness, as pretty much every injury of his pro career has come from crashing in the whoops, so that's where his focus should be if it isn't already. Maybe he should even consider using Marvin Musquin's jumping technique at the rounds that have extra gnarly sets of whoops. Losing a little time compared to those who blitz them is a small price to pay for avoiding crashes and injuries.
Austin could technically still win the championship, but he'd have to win a lot and avoid any mistakes for seven more rounds. We'll see how he does in Glendale.
The Ugly: GEICO Honda
What could have been an incredible night for GEICO Honda quickly turned sour with both Jett Lawrence and Christian Craig ending up with DNFs. Christian was on pace to finish in fourth or fifth place, but his incident with Dylan Ferrandis left him with severely bent bars, and that was it for his night. I already discussed the move above, so I won't dive back into it too much, but I do think that Christian definitely had a reason to be pretty angry over this move initially. From his perspective, he just got torpedoed in a corner where passes hadn't commonly been made all day long. He handled the situation with as much maturity as we could expect, though, and he has moved on from it. The good news is he will be back to give it another shot in Glendale. Man, he has to be one of the unluckiest riders we've seen in recent memory. He has made plenty of his own mistakes, but many have been entirely out of his control as well.
Jett was on rails all night, and at one point he had over an 11-second lead in the Main Event. A small crash in the back half of the Main Event clearly sent him into panic mode, and he immediately started wheelying the whoops and the dragon's back like an absolute madman. We have to remember that Jett is only 16 years old, so it's not that much of a surprise to see him crank things up to 120% once he could feel the win slipping out of his hands, but his crash on the last lap while battling Dylan Ferrandis for the win was still heartbreaking to see. He was lucky enough to walk away with only a broken collarbone, but I bet he learned that going all-out on a difficult race track when he's already made several mistakes is not the best idea. He'll be back relatively soon, and I can't wait to watch him win his first race.
The Good: Eli Tomac | 1st Place
Eli's back!!(??) Well, maybe...it's always so hard to tell with this guy. Is this when he starts a spectacular run of wins and podiums? Or will he head to Glendale and promptly get a sixth place? What I wrote after he underperformed at Anaheim 1 still stands, and ultimately we'll have to wait until we are at least another three or four rounds into the championship to see which way he's trending. This was a great win, though, and it's good to see him put himself squarely back into the title chase points-wise. He's five points back now, can he close it up even more in Glendale?
The Bad: Adam Cianciarulo | 6th Place
Alright, yeah, Adam wasn't "bad" at Anaheim 2. He's a rookie, and he finished in sixth place. How dare he! But still, I think that this performance showed that although he's blazing fast and is arguably one of the best 450 rookies we have seen in a long time, he's going to have nights where he gets a decent start and struggles to match the pace of the veterans around him. He still has to learn and adjust to how gnarly the tracks can be for the 450 guys, especially on a track like Anaheim 2, which was already gnarly before the 250s rode on it for 16 minutes. Next week will be a learning experience for him, too, as he will experience his first Triple Crown as a 450 rider. He was reasonably inconsistent during the Triple Crowns he raced as a 250 rider, but could he surprise us and get his first 450 win at a round that uses the format?
The Ugly: Justin Barcia | 9th Place
There isn't a whole lot about Justin Barcia's performance at Anaheim 2 to analyze. He didn't qualify well; he didn't look great in his heat race, and he didn't get a good start, nor did he have the speed to slice through the pack in the Main Event. He looked great at Anaheim 1 and was able to salvage a podium finish at St. Louis despite being sick, so I'm guessing that he could not find his groove on this track for one reason or another. I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried, though. He needs to bounce back in Glendale, and in a big way, or else we might see him slide right out of title contention after looking so good at the beginning. There are a lot of questions surrounding the 450 class right now. Glendale should provide some answers.
You can check out my personal Power Rankings here.
Words by Grant Dawson
Photos by Steve Giberson
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