The Good: Christian Craig | 1st Place
Given Christian Craig's speed and talent, it's hard to believe that the only win of his career came during the 2016 season. If you were to watch practice tape of Christian and look at the list of teams and machinery he has been on; you'd expect to see his stats sheet loaded with podiums, wins, and maybe even championships. Unfortunately, something (whether it be crashes, race fitness, starts, a lengthy suspension, or injuries) has always stood in the way of him reaching his full potential.
2021 provided him with the opportunity for a massive reset, as he moved to Star Racing Yamaha after spending many years with the now-defunct GEICO Honda team. He had a new bike, a new team, and an injury-free offseason coming into the new year, and he showed on Saturday night that: A. He's getting along really well with the Yamaha and B. His fitness is the best it has been in years. He got out front quick, built a very comfortable lead, and then he went into management mode for the rest of the race. It was an A+ ride all the way around. If this were a couple of years ago, I bet that a lot of us would have expected him to fade back into the clutches of Austin Forkner towards the end of the Main Event. And, honestly, a couple of years ago, that's probably what would have happened. It looks like he's reached new heights with his fitness, though, and Christian Craig with a solid fitness level will be a dangerous thing for the rest of the field. We'll see if he's able to back it up on Tuesday.
The Good Bonus: Colt Nichols | 3rd Place
Colt has been haunted by the injury bug for a few years now. He dealt with injuries in 2017 and 2018, but he put up a valiant effort in 2019 that saw him hold onto the red plate for a good portion of the season. Another injury meant that he wouldn't join the 2020 season until the series was in the Salt Lake City bubble, but he did score three podiums in the four rounds he raced before sustaining another injury.
He's a rider that always seems to fly under the radar, especially when he's coming back from an injury, but every time he comes back it's like he was never even gone. He clearly doesn't need a few races to get back into the swing of things like most do, and he proved that once again on Saturday when he finished third in his first race back from injury. If he's able to stay healthy this year, he'll be in the title fight until the end.
The Bad: Jett Lawrence | 6th Place
I've always found the hype and pressure that gets put on the shoulders of young riders like Jett to be ridiculous. This is only his second Supercross season, and it's not like he was dominating the field last season, but somehow he came into the season as one of the title favorites. Last year he showed insane flashes of speed and made plenty of big mistakes. If anything, I'd say that my goal for him this year would to be consistent and avoid any major errors. He looked a little tight and cautious during the first part of Saturday's Main Event, but he started to put the pieces together before a last lap mistake cost him a couple of spots. He still salvaged a sixth-place and I'd imagine he learned a lot.
The wins will come with time. We've seen what happens when talented young riders (Adam Cianciarulo, Austin Forkner, etc.) go balls-out early in their career once they realize they have more raw speed than most of the other guys on the starting line. I want to see Jett make it through the season healthy.
The Ugly: RJ Hampshire | 5th Place
Okay, this wasn't a bad performance from RJ, as a fifth-place finish at the opening round of the series is nothing to complain about. I do expect him to win some races this year, though, and to do that, he has to cut out these little crashes that seem to hamper him every year. He has the speed, the bike, and the right attitude to contend for this title, but there's a piece that seems to still be missing. We'll see where he stands after a couple of more rounds.
The Good: Justin Barcia | 1st Place
Yep, that's three season-opener wins in a row for Mr. Barcia. The difference between 2019/2020 and this year, though, is that now he's on GasGas machinery. It's well-documented that his 2019 and 2020 seasons did not go according to plan after starting with a win, but will things be different this year now that he's on a new bike with a new team? I mean, who knows? We've ended up in this same spot for three years now, so we're just gonna have to wait and see.
The Bad: Cooper Webb | 9th Place
Cooper looked completely unremarkable for the entire day. He's not known as a rider who will go out there and set a blazing lap in qualifying, but he was 13th overall heading into the night show. He then got run down by Zach Osborne in his heat race before getting a bad start in the Main Event and struggling to move forward. He would cross the finish line in ninth place, which isn't the end of the world...but the entire day just seemed kind of "bleh" for Cooper. Could it have been that the track was rather simple and hard to pass on? Possibly, but we'll have to see how he does on Tuesday. There are always more questions than answers after the season-opener.
The Bad Bonus: Justin Bogle | DNQ
I mean, what can I say about Justin that I haven't said before? He absolutely has the talent to be on this race circuit with factory-level equipment, but it has been several years since he has completed a full season. Starting off another season with a crash that kept him out of the night show isn't encouraging.
The Ugly: Eli Tomac & Jason Anderson Struggle
Well, everyone, I feel like we've been here before. And if you feel the same, it's because we have. The opening round of the season is definitely not Eli Tomac's friend. He seems to always struggle for one reason or another. In years past, the reasons have ranged from the bike set up, arm pump to just an inability for Eli to get locked into race mode at the first round. This year Eli got a bad start, had two entanglements with Vince Friese, and looked like he had no fight in him at all later on in the race. However, I've learned that drawing any major conclusions from Eli's first race of the year is never a good idea, so I'm more interested in seeing what his results look like after three or four more rounds.
Jason Anderson also had some major struggles at the first round of the season, but he's coming back from another injury to the arm he broke in 2019 and even said "day one don't expect much" on his Instagram. So I'd say that it's pretty clear that this year will be a re-build year for El Hombre. I am hopeful that he'll contend for wins at some point during this season, though.
Words by Grant Dawson
Photos by Steve Giberson