Analysis: A 450SX Preview III

The 450SX underdogs are poised to make a mark

· 7 minutes read

The deal of the day on 24MX.

The 450SX riders featured below are going to be overlooked in pre-season discussions but will undoubtedly remind everyone of their worth when the Monster Energy Supercross series fires into life this weekend. It is almost a tradition for some of these riders, like Blake Baggett and Justin Brayton, to be pushed across to the side by pundits. How many fans remember that Baggett finished in fourth in the points a year ago, for instance?

Chad Reed

There are some in the industry who believe that Chad Reed is prolonging a career that should have finished a long time ago by continuing to race, but those theories may not be justified. The fact that he struggled in Monster Energy Supercross last year egged the naysayers on, not that they needed much encouragement, but then they also elect to shun the facts. Reed battled an injury during the season and was underprepared, because of that. There is absolutely no doubt that he will be considerably better on the RM-Z450 when the gates drop this weekend.

It is certainly a possibility that Chad Reed could return to the podium (Suzuki Racing)

What could he realistically achieve? Well, that is the question. Is a podium finish really out of the question? It is by no means a given, but there is certainly a chance. If he puts himself into third and then things unravel for the guys ahead of him, what is to say that he could not go even further than that on a certain weekend? Chad Reed is an opportunist and one must look at his rides in San Diego and Anaheim three years ago to see that. It is realistic that a similar situation could take place this time around, especially considering that he is going to be more comfortable with JGR Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing.

Blake Baggett

Blake Baggett was actually on the podium multiple times last year and finished fourth in the final standings. Does he get enough credit for that? Often hailed as an outdoor-specialist, he had a superb term in Monster Energy Supercross. Baggett and the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC team had to push past some set-up issues to get to that point too, hence a slow start at Anaheim 1, but he was still up on the podium by round five. All of the major contenders were still on track at that point as well, so he was really operating at an elite level. Onlookers never seem to slot him in that category though.

What is the point of this little recap? Well, looking at what he achieved a year ago, it seems as though some have not made appropriate changes to their expectations for the upcoming term. A single podium finish is inevitable, one could argue based on recent statistics, yet it still feels as though the common consensus is that it would take some luck for him to move into the top three. Blake Baggett will definitely surprise a lot of people and, considering that there will not be bike problems to overcome this time around, it could even happen as soon as this weekend.

Blake Baggett was very impressive at points in the 450SX class last year (RMATVMC KTM)

Malcolm Stewart

Malcolm Stewart is poised to achieve a lot more in the upcoming Monster Energy Supercross season. Why? The MotoConcepts Honda squad have signed him for the entire seventeen-round series, a privilege that he has never enjoyed before, and he has been able to do countless laps at the test tracks to refine his CRF450R. Again, that is a privilege that he has been robbed off since he stepped into the premier division. Yet another positive is that he is now training with Gareth Swanepoel, who previously worked with Cooper Webb, so it is inevitable that there will be gains on the physical side as well. Everything is coming together!

There was a bump in the road, admittedly, as he crashed out of a race in Torino in a spectacular fashion. It was initially feared that he sustained a season-ending injury, but it seems as though everything is fine there. There have not actually been any significant updates from his squad on when he got back onto the bike or if he is one hundred percent, but he will be on the line at Anaheim 1. What could he achieve at his best? A couple of top-five finishes are surely not out of the question. Heck, maybe one podium finish would not be too much of a stretch?

Dean Wilson

Dean Wilson has really made the most of his social-media platforms throughout the off-season, yet it seems as though his programme is still a mystery. Wilson will pilot an FC 450, just as he has in the last two seasons, and Rockstar Energy Drink are his biggest sponsor. There is really no doubt that his programme is going to be better than what it was when he was last a privateer on a Yamaha and he had no problem breaking into the top ten at that point. The field is deeper now, sure, but similar results are undoubtedly attainable. One would think that setting the bar there would be enough to attract the attention of teams too.

Dean Wilson has retained a lot of the same sponsors that he had last year (Husqvarna Motorcycles/Simon Cudby)

It is a shame that Dean Wilson was hit by multiple injuries in Monster Energy Supercross a year ago; he was really riding better than ever before. There were successful off-season adventures and then in the very first heat race at Angel Stadium, which was a very small sample size, he looked more aggressive than in previous years. That bit him before any good could come of it, but what would have happened had he kept it on two wheels a little longer? It really did seem as though he was on the verge of a breakthrough. Is it possible for him to reach that level as a privateer?

Justin Bogle

Justin Bogle has joined the Justin Barcia programme. After hitting rock bottom in the off-season and having to create a privateer effort, he has taken advantage of an injury that another rider encountered and joined an elite team as a fill-in rider. This process worked perfectly for Barcia, but will Bogle enjoy similar success? It has been quite a while since he last battled at the head of the field, sixteen months to be exact, and there have been a lot of health issues in that time. Although he appears to be one hundred percent again, a very late start on the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM team will undoubtedly leave him with work to do in January.

The good news is that Justin Bogle has a deal for the entire seventeen-round series, so he does have plenty of time to work with. It would be wise to temper expectations to begin with but then, if he can stay healthy, he needs to start showing some kind of potential when the series heads east. A lifeline like this is rare and, if he fails to take advantage, who knows what direction his career will go. Merely staying healthy will be a step in the right direction for him, as he never completed a full series aboard the 450F. That is undoubtedly the first point that he needs to prove.

Justin Bogle will replace Benny Bloss, who tore his ACL before Christmas (RMATVMC KTM)

Justin Brayton

Justin Brayton finally broke through and stood on top of the 450SX podium in the previous season, yet one could argue that he is still underrated. Why? Brayton has gathered an impressive amount of victories during the off-season and yet most elect to ignore that success, instead electing to leave him out of the pre-season chats. Is that justified? Expecting him to win again is arguably unrealistic, as it will only happen if all of those elements fall into place, but it is likely that he will match guys like Blake Baggett and Cole Seely or even be ahead of his flashier teammate, Malcolm Stewart.

It will be quite interesting to see what kind of impact the world tour that Justin Brayton has just completed will have on his campaign in the USA. Brayton is no stranger to an eventful off-season, of course, but did a lot more travelling than ever before this time around and also overcame illnesses. Brayton will have had a little less than three weeks at home in the United States when gates drop at Anaheim 1 this weekend. That is how busy he has been! Will it hurt him or will he reap the benefits after experiencing multiple gate drops? Sceptics are always watching this particular scenario carefully.

Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: RMATVC KTM/Simon Cudby

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