Good, Bad, 'n Ugly: Daytona 2

As always, Daytona provides plenty of ways for the riders to cover all the bases. Here are Grant's picks for the weekend.

Good, Bad, 'n Ugly: Daytona

250 Class

The Good: Garrett Marchbanks | 1st Place

Who predicted this? Outside of Garrett's family, friends, and team, I'd imagine no one did. Garrett had one podium last season in the mud, and while it's clear that he has made a lot of progress since then, I wouldn't say he had shown anything through the first three rounds of the season that made me believe he'd win a race this year. A podium or two? Sure, but not a win. 

Then Daytona happened. I'm not sure what exactly clicked for him during the day. Maybe it was just the fact that he holeshot his heat race and the Main Event, or perhaps the outdoor style track helped him take his riding to the next level. No matter what it was, he was a completely different rider from the first three rounds of the season. Chase Sexton did close the gap towards the end of the race, but Garrett was very consistent with his lap times, and they started yo-yoing until it became clear that Chase didn't have a spot to make the move. Garrett was probably told before this season started that he needed to take a big step up from where he was last year, and he just delivered on that. And while I don't think that this immediately makes him a title threat, this sets him up nicely to finish on the podium a few more times this season and become a serious title contender in 2021. 

Garrett Marchbanks (with Chase Sexton in hot pursuit) late in the 250 main event.

The Good Bonus: Pierce Brown | 6th Place

Pierce Brown is one of those rookies that has all of the speed in the world, but he's still in that stage of going super fast for a while and then crashing. He did go down in his heat race, but it was when the whoops were a bit too peaked, and he was also trying to avoid a bike that was in his path, so I won't put that one on him. However, he did crash on his own in the sand section during the LCQ, and for a moment, I figured that would end his night. But I was wrong! He was able to charge back through and finish in third to secure his spot in the Main Event. 

There, he got off to a fifth-place start, and finished in sixth place, which...is actually really good?! I didn't expect that kind of performance by him at all, and it shows that maybe he won't be quite as crash-prone at the beginning of his career as I expected. And now that he has made it through an entire Main Event while riding up front, the question is which direction will he go from here? I'd like to see him build some confidence off of this and put together a string of solid finishes, but rookies are so hard to figure out. He could go out and get a 15th next week, and we'd chalk it up to him being a rookie. We'll see what happens in Indianapolis. 

Pierce Brown.

The Bad: Josh Hill | 21st Place

It has been a great season so far for Josh Hill, but Daytona went sideways on the first lap of the Main Event, and it didn't get any better from there. The incident between Shane McElrath and Jordon Smith left Josh nowhere to go but off of the track and sent him back to 20th place. From what I can gather, Josh then charged up to 15th before having another issue and falling back to 21st. Josh is clearly serious about racing this year since he really put forth the effort to get in shape and put together a solid program, but he's still Josh Hill, and he's mainly doing this to have fun. He'll be back to where he belongs next week. 

Josh Hill. The fist pump for Garrett Marchbanks as he went by during the main was a nice touch.

The Ugly: Nick Gaines & Jordon Smith

Oof, talk about a rough crash for Nick Gaines in the second heat race of the night. The whoops clearly had a sharper peak to them compared earlier on in the day, and a lot of guys must not have been prepared for that because there were two large yard sales before the track crew decided to knock the whoops down. The one that involved Nick Gaines was probably the more brutal one, though. Nick had gotten a great and went to hammer his way through the whoops, but before he knew it, he got a kick, rode the front wheel for a few whoops, and then got slammed into the dirt followed by a hard hit to his head by Chase Sexton's bike. Luckily, Nick was able to walk away from this incident with just a broken hand. Get well soon, Nick!

Nick Gaines about to get a visit from his 3D Racing Yamaha.

Jordon Smith, man, what is there to say? I really, really thought that his performance last week was going to help him turn around his season and finish it out strong. Alas, Daytona was the roughest race for him yet. He was off of the pace of Shane McElrath in his heat race, but he still finished second and looked to be a lock for the top five in the Main Event if all went well. And then, well, a shove in the corner before the sand from Shane on the first lap of the Main Event led to Jordon going for a hard pass at the end of the section...and Jordon seemed to make a mistake before taking them both down and injuring his knee. He posted on Instagram that he twisted his knee pretty badly and will need an MRI, and I'd imagine this means that he won't line up for Indianapolis. Bleh, things couldn't be going any worse for him in his first season riding for Mitch Payton. 

Jordon Smith (54) got off to a good start, but things deteriorated quickly on the first lap.

450 Class

The Good: Eli Tomac | 1st Place

As usual, the scary-fast version of Eli Tomac showed up at Daytona, and he was able to slice through all of the title hopefuls before hunting down his then co-points leader, Ken Roczen, to take the win. Eli was able to put down some blazing laps, and his pace didn't fall off like, well, everyone else, but he also was in the right place at the right time as guys around him made mistakes. Justin Barcia tipped over, so Eli didn't have to deal with him, Aaron Plessinger decided to be nice and didn't cut over on him in the corner after the tunnel jump, and Cooper Webb made a mistake in the sand that allowed Eli to motor by. I'm not discounting the charge because by the time he was setting up Cooper for the pass, he was moving, but this track was not easy to pass on, and those mistakes by others were crucial to him getting through and having enough time to hunt down Ken. And, yes, Ken also made a mistake that made Eli's life easier, but at that point, Eli was railing so hard he was going to get by Ken one way or another. This title fight is the best we've had in a long time, and I'm hoping that they continue to trade wins over the next few rounds so that it'll go all the way down to the wire.

Eli Tomac.

The Good Bonus: Aaron Plessinger | 6th Place

After only three top ten finishes through the first seven rounds of the season (one ninth and two 10ths), Aaron Plessinger has finished in eighth, seventh, and sixth in the past three rounds. A lot of folks were doubting his 450 class abilities through those first seven rounds of the season. I had my questions about him, too, but some people were saying that he was going to go to GNCC next year and all kinds of stuff which I found a bit outrageous. First of all, he stated in an interview (it was on Race Day Live, so I understand not everyone is aware) that he has a contract with Yamaha for 2021. So he's not going anywhere, and I think that he has proven all of us that had doubted him wrong over the past three rounds. He is making some serious progress now, and he looks to be comfortable on the bike, too. He was a thorn in Justin Barcia's side all night long in Daytona, and I gotta say I loved seeing that given how he has been the clear number two rider on the team up to this point. I'm still not sure what his ceiling is in the 450 class, but I'd have to imagine a top-five finish is coming for him soon.

Aaron Plessinger (7) in his heat race.

The Bad: Cooper Webb | 3rd Place

I doubt Cooper is riding quite at 100% given the crash he had at Arlington and how he dislocated a couple of ribs in Atlanta, but at the end of the day, he's still out there racing because he wants to keep the title in reach...and it's starting to slip away. He's now 29 points down in the standings, and while he still has seven rounds to make up points, he is going to have to go on a run at this title and hope that both Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen slip up in serious ways. If he goes to Indianapolis and comes out with another third, while Eli or Ken collects another win, I think that might be it for Cooper's title chances barring something crazy happening with the top two. So this coming weekend is a big one for him.

Cooper Webb (1).

The Ugly: Blake Baggett | 22nd Place

Blake may have been running a new number font on his bike this week, but it didn't do anything to change the bad luck he has experienced all season as he got knocked off the track in the first corner of the Main Event and slammed into the ground hard. He looked to be favoring his shoulder as he went to pick up his bike, and never completed a lap, so I'm guessing he went to get checked on by the medical crew. I haven't seen an update on how he's doing, but he has taken a beating this season, and if he just picked up another injury...maybe he should take the necessary time off from racing to get healthy.

Things looked good early for Blake Baggett (4) in the main event, but it went downhill rapidly right after this.


You can view my personal Power Rankings here.

Words by Grant Dawson
Photos by Steve Giberson

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