Five races have come and gone. For Eli Tomac, it’s been a successful start to 2020. No, he is not in the points lead. No, he has not held the points lead at any point. Still, 2020 is tied for his best ever beginning to a season. Through five races, only in 2019 was he able to match this solid start. While it’s easy to sit back and say, “Yeah, but he’s still second to Ken Roczen. Great analysis, moron.” I actually might not disagree with that temperament but I do think it creates a few talking points.
Most seasons, Eli Tomac is one of the central characters of the championship fight. While he hasn’t solved that elusive puzzle just yet, he is undoubtedly in the conversation every year. His biggest obstacle has been building a hole early in the season that became too deep to claw out of. It would be hard to argue that Tomac has not been the best rider down the stretch in most of his supercross seasons. To put numbers to that point, in the past three seasons, his average finish in the final five races of each season is an astounding second place.
Further, he racked up eight wins across those fifteen races. Winning over half of the races in the final stretch is usually a recipe for a championship. At least one, right? Nope. Keep in mind that the average of second place also factors in the debacle that was East Rutherford 2017 and also he gave up a sure win at Las Vegas that same season by “bunching” the field. Point being, once Tomac gets rolling, he’s nearly unstoppable in the march towards May. The problem has been January and February.
In 2019 and now 2020, Tomac looks to have solved that January problem. What happened last year, you ask? Cooper Webb happened. Last season, Cooper Webb went on a miraculous run once we passed five races. How good, you ask? In the final twelve races, his tally looked like this: 1-1-2-1-2-3-4-1-3-2-1-3. For the math experts out there, that’s an average finish of 1.9 in the final twelve races of the season. 1.9 for twelve races! That’s next level. Regardless of what Tomac had planned for the second half of the season, Webb was too good. Tomac’s patented late season surge was useless against Webb’s stranglehold on the points lead. So, what now?
As we enter the same final twelve races that Webb caught fire just a year ago, Tomac has to be acutely aware of that. Even worse, he has to deal with a rejuvenated Ken Roczen, who, by the way, is your points leader. Tomac has done a nice job of avoiding the early season disaster we saw most notably in 2018, but now the real work begins. It’s not a foregone conclusion that he will rack up win after win as the season grows long. Cooper Webb proved last year that he is just as capable of that maneuver. There is a small points discrepancy but will it matter?
Last year, Webb was only down eight points after five races. This year, he finds himself down eighteen. If the exact same scenario played out each week, Webb would still find himself the champ as he won the title by eighteen points and also had the most wins. That means he made up twenty-six points on the red plate holder over the course of the season. That same scenario would leave him with eight points to spare in Salt Lake City 2020. I don’t think we can expect anything to be exactly like last year but purely on a numbers basis, this championship chase is very much like last year.
The real question is, who takes charge in 2020? It has been Tomac time in other years but 2019 was an onslaught of Cooper Webb. Even more interesting, how does Roczen factor in? Can he sustain this level week after week? His health looks to be sorted but how can we really know until the travel and endless barrage of racing takes its toll? The numbers say that we are entering one of the most crucial periods of the season. The eventual champion usually rises to make his mark, emerging in this middling time. The points say that it’s still anyone’s title. What say you?
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Sean Ogden