With five thrilling rounds of action completed, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, will reach the halfway point of the 2014 season on Saturday, July 5, with the 4th of July tradition that is the Red Bull RedBud National in Buchanan, Michigan.
While the competition in the 450 Class has been exceptional throughout the first 10 motos of racing, the one constant throughout that span has been the Red Bull KTM duo of Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey. Last weekend at Muddy Creek Raceway in Tennessee, the teammates traded moto wins and tied for the overall, with Roczen coming away with his third win of the season thanks to his triumphant effort in Moto 2.
While the German rookie is the winningest rider in the 450 Class thus far (four moto wins and three overall victories), he has been kept honest by the consistency that has made Dungey one of the best outdoor riders of all time. If not for a few uncharacteristic mistakes by Dungey, he would be that much closer to potentially overtaking his teammate and pursuing a third title in five years. In response, Roczen has compiled an impeccable 1.7 finishing average compared to Dungey's equally impressive 2.4 average.
The key to Roczen's success thus far has been his ability to counter Dungey's challenges. Whether it be losing a position to Dungey in a moto and reclaiming it, or responding to one of Dungey's moto wins with one of his own, Roczen has continued to find a way stifle any possible momentum from his teammate. As a result, there is a highly competitive rivalry percolating under the KTM tent. And it's a rivalry that has proven to be productive on the racetrack, especially when you consider each rider's respective results, but tension could increase as the season nears its conclusion.
After arguably his most impressive performance since his championship-winning perfect season in 2008, many thought James Stewart's High Point victory would vault him into the thick of the hunt alongside the KTM pair. However, the Team Yoshimura Suzuki rider endured a tough day at Muddy Creek in which he found himself on the ground in each moto and had to fight relentlessly for an eighth-place result. Additionally, one round after he earned a season-best second place moto result, Team Honda Muscle Milk's Trey Canard wasn't a factor in the battle for the win at Muddy Creek, but still managed to secure fourth overall. With Stewart and Canard sitting in third and fourth in the championship, respectively, RedBud is the ideal opportunity for both riders to make a run over the second half of the season.
The newest addition to the 450 Class, Eli Tomac, made an immediate impact aboard his GEICO Honda at Muddy Creek. Despite having to forego the first month of action while he recovered from a broken collarbone, Tomac not only posted the fastest lap of practice but also earned a holeshot and was in the thick of the lead battle throughout the afternoon. With nothing to lose for the remainder of the season, Tomac will play an intriguing role in the outcome of the championship.
Also of note for the premier division is the recent announcement from Team Honda Muscle Milk that Swedish rider Fredrik Noren has been named as the fill-in rider for an injured Justin Barcia. Season-ending ankle surgery sidelined Barcia for the remainder of 2014, allowing for the opportunity of a lifetime for the privateer Noren. During the first month of competition Noren impressed the industry with his tenacity and consistency, which resulted in battles for top 10 results and currently has him occupying 13th in the championship standings as the series' top privateer. He'll pilot the Muscle Milk Honda alongside Canard for the entirety for the championship.
Once seemingly a runaway for Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha's Jeremy Martin, the battle for the 250 Class title has reached its most competitive point of the 2014 season. Following a perfect 5-0 start to the season, Martin carried a 25-point lead heading into the second moto at Thunder Valley - exactly one full moto ahead of the entire field. Since then, Martin's finishing average has dropped to an even 6.0, capped off by his worst outing of the summer at Muddy Creek, where he finished seventh overall.
In the wake of Martin's drop off has been the rise of both his Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha teammate Cooper Webb and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Blake Baggett. Baggett became the first rider other than Martin to win a moto and an overall at Thunder Valley, which carried into a 1-1 effort at High Point and a 1-3 performance last weekend in Tennessee to make him the hottest rider in the division. Baggett faced what appeared to be an insurmountable 59-point deficit up until his first moto win, losing points to Martin in every moto and even being relegated to a DNF in the final moto at Hangtown. However, once he tasted victory Baggett has refused to settle for anything less. Over the last five motos, Baggett has outscored Martin 120 to 78, and sits only 17 points back in the standings coming into RedBud, where he's won two of the last three seasons.
Webb has been the one consistent threat to Martin since the season began, but up until this past weekend at Muddy Creek, he had yet to finish ahead of his teammate in a single moto. In fact, Webb literally followed his teammate across the line just one spot back in seven of the eight motos leading up to Tennessee. That frustration no doubt motivated Webb and likely left a chip on his shoulder, but it was also the key to his proximity to Martin in the title hunt. At Tennessee, Webb came out on a mission and raised his performance to a new level that ultimately allowed him to finish ahead of Martin in each moto and was capped off by his first career moto win and overall win at his hometown race. With the halfway point looming, a mere eight points separate Webb from Martin.
The 250 Class has evolved into a three-rider showdown for the title and pits the talented future of the division against one of its most successful veterans.
RedBud has long been considered one of the premier stops of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Scheduling alongside the Independence Day holiday, combined with its one-of-a-kind fan base, has made it a true destination event for any motocross enthusiast. Moreover, the track continues to be a favorite among riders thanks to its great soil and diverse collection of obstacles. Many have said that RedBud can be considered the epitome of what American motocross is about, which makes it a fitting and critical juncture as the season reaches the midway point.
Last year at RedBud, eventual 450 Class Champion Ryan Villopoto was dominant en route to his first career premier division win at the track, sweeping the motos and adding to his points lead. In the 250 Class, Roczen and Tomac went bar-to-bar in each moto and put on a show for the fans. Both riders ultimately traded moto wins, with Roczen's second moto triumph giving him the edge for the overall and continuing the duo's memorable battle for the championship.
Action for the Red Bull RedBud National this Saturday, July 5, begins at 8:30 a.m. ET with timed practice. Opening ceremonies get underway at 12:25 p.m. ET, with the first gate drop scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Live broadcast coverage from RedBud begins Saturday, July 5, at 1 p.m. ET with the first motos of the 450 and 250 Classes on MAVTV, followed by a broadcast of the final 450 Class moto on NBC at 3 p.m. ET. The NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) will bookend an action-packed afternoon with live coverage of the final 250 Class moto at 4 p.m. ET. Additionally, all the action can be seen via live stream online at ProMotocross.com (first motos) and NBC Sports Live Extra (second motos).