What a difference a week can make! Leaving Arlington, it really felt like this was all going Eli Tomac’s way. He was able to blast through the pack and grab the overall win in the final main event and he extended his points lead to seven over Ken Roczen whilst another of his rivals, Cooper Webb, had a huge crash. The momentum had certainly swung towards Tomac and many (including myself) wondered if anyone would be able to plug the leak in Roczen’s title hope.
We now sit here a week later and everything feels different, doesn’t it? Roczen dominated the Atlanta event, sending a message to anyone and everyone. Further, Tomac had a myriad of issues that saw him on the ground once, stalled in the sand once, and off the podium to end the night. All of that Tomac “feel good” leaving Arlington is now nothing more than a memory.
Tomac will also have to deal with a furious Blake Baggett and a feisty Justin Barcia. His aggressive passes have painted a virtual target on his back. While Roczen is well liked by most of his competitors, Tomac is not exactly winning anyone over. Maybe it won’t matter but I have always believed that championships become much tougher to win if you’re constantly worried about payback. I don’t believe that Ken Roczen is necessarily worried about a cheap shot from anyone but Eli Tomac will be in each main event from here to Salt Lake City.
Worse, with Tomac’s inconsistent starts he will undoubtedly have to pass riders that are looking to pick a fight. I don’t think this will be an every week thing, because there will be races where Tomac starts near the front and is able to avoid incident. The nights like Atlanta, though, where he is mired in the midst of ill-willed equals, it’s going to be dicey at best. It can’t be a calming thought to know that maybe the most aggressive rider since Damon Bradshaw is wanting to put his #51 Yamaha on, over and through you.
As for the points, we are back to square one for Tomac and Roczen. Daytona is up next and surely Tomac will be the on-paper favorite. Roczen has already made comment that he wants to flip that script, stealing away a race that many will have Tomac winning. If he can grab a holeshot and beat Tomac at Daytona, a powerful message will be fired across Tomac’s bow. He will have completely swung the momentum pendulum back from a precarious position leaving Arlington. It’s a big ask, beating Tomac on a track where he has appeared superhuman in past years. If Tomac blows the start again and Roczen can disappear in the early laps, it’s surely doable.
For my money, though, I think Tomac bounces back with a win. He hasn’t looked as vulnerable mentally this season. Even when everything was collapsing around him in Atlanta, he was able to fight back to nearly get onto the podium. He could have let all of that pressure and chaos ruin his focus much like Arlington 2019, New Jersey 2017 etc. He didn’t falter, though, and charged like a madman to minimize the damage. Daytona is a comfortable venue for Tomac, the open layout and soft dirt giving him the freedom to unleash his aggressive approach. Roczen has a big goal in mind but I think Tomac will counterpunch come Saturday night.
Championship wise, this season could be an all timer. Roczen and Tomac have distanced themselves a bit, pushing the lead to 23 and 24 over Barcia and Webb respectively. I expect Webb to win a few races down the stretch but I am unsure if he can close the points gap over both Roczen and Tomac. If he can, the next few rounds are critical. He needs to win and win now. Roczen has already shown that he is susceptible to an off night, giving back big points at San Diego. It’s not an impossible task but Webb has to basically be perfect down the stretch. Impeccable starts and zero mistakes while also getting a bit of help from those in front of him.
If forced to choose, I think I will lean towards Tomac. He has several events ahead that have been good to him historically. Thinking over each upcoming race, I can remember Tomac having a great win at that venue. He has also had a few tough nights at some of these, most notably a fifteenth at Indy 2018. Still, Tomac has his best tracks upcoming. Daytona, Seattle, Vegas and Salt Lake have seen Tomac put in some of the most dominant wins of his career. If he is to be this 2020 Monster Energy Supercross champ, he will need to continue his ability to dominate the end of this series. His 2019 average finish from this point onwards was 2.25, 2018 was 1.42 (excluding the Indy debacle) and 2017 was 2.42 (drops to 1.28 if you exclude the NJ weird race).
In short, he has been incredibly hard to beat once the series hits Daytona. Roczen has the momentum and shares the red plate but if Tomac glances at the upcoming schedule, I don’t think he will feel the sense of panic that we wondered he might. Daytona will go a long way towards determining this series outcome. It’s a race that demands a lot from the racers physically and mentally. Tomac will go in with an air of confidence that Daytona has granted him. Roczen has a big opportunity Saturday, even if it seems unlikely on paper. Past the points, the mental war that will rage once the gate drops is enough to have me antsy already.
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Race Kawasaki