It was a special night at The World Center of Racing this past Saturday night as Daytona International Speedway hosted the 50th annual Daytona Supercross, presenting all those in attendance with a spectacular show worthy of the occasion. The track was a signature design by none other than Ricky Carmichael himself, but it was a little bit different than recent years. The concept for the course was borrowed from the previous fifty years of racing at the historic venue, featuring a multitude of obstacles that threw it back to the vintage days of racing at the Speedway and beyond. It wasn’t the most difficult track in terms of layout and therefore there wasn’t much to separate the competitors, but the exorbitant amount of beach sand and the unique 360-degree start surely kept things interesting throughout the night of racing.
Qualifying was incredibly important due to the layout of the track and the times were incredibly tight between the top riders, making for an exciting day program as the competitors attempted to get dialed in on the track. It’s crucial to lay down a fast lap in the early stages of qualifying practice while the track isn’t as rough, but that means finding a balance of learning the track and laying down fast laps. The unique vibe of the Daytona layout always poses problems to the riders in terms of bike setup, because it’s more similar to an Outdoor National than it is a traditional Supercross. After qualifying practice subsided, it was Kyle Chisholm that led the way in the 450SX class for the LS2 riders, settling into 19th position after both combined sessions. A little further down the running order, Bubba Pauli and Joan Cros worked their way into the night show by making marked improvements on their lap times between sessions, qualifying in 36th and 37th place, respectively. Scotty Wennerstrom was close behind in 40th place, snagging the final ticket to the night show after bettering his personal best lap time by a total of two seconds between sessions. Unfortunately, Josh Greco finished on the other side of the cut after struggling to find his flow during practice, missing out on a chance to race under the lights of Daytona Speedway this year.
Greco commented “I struggled all day with bike setup and just felt like I wasn’t riding good. I ran outdoor suspension to try and deal with the high-speed parts of the track, but I was bottoming out and getting sketchy in the tight rhythm section lanes, so I ended up missing qualifying by three spots.”
In the 250SX class, Zane Merrett and Kyle Dillin were both attempting to earn a spot in the night show and work their way towards the Main Event, but things didn’t go their way. The deep beach sand and unique layout of the track made it difficult to get comfortable and luck wasn’t on their side during qualifying practice. Dillin had a hard crash in the last timed session which ended up robbing him of a final chance at a spot within the fast forty while Merrett suffered a similar fate, although it was due to a bike malfunction. The Texan had the pace to put it in the night show and challenge for his first 250SX Main Event, but he blew out his rear wheel during the second qualifying session, subsequently ending his day early.
“My day was short. I was super stoked to be there and ready to race, but I only got to do free practice and first qualifying. My rear wheel blew out in the second qualifying session so I only got to do a couple of laps. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to put any laps together and didnt make it to the night show,” said Merrett.
After much anticipation, the night show got underway and the gate of the first 450SX Heat was packed with both Pauli and Wennerstrom. Neither of them was able to secure the position that they needed in order to provide them with a shot at a transfer spot as they banged bars through the 360-degree start as Pauli came across the line in 16th and Wennerstrom crossed the timing stripe in 19th position. After six hard laps one of the most challenging tracks of the year, Pauli finished in 18th and Wennerstrom greeted the checkered flag in 20th position. In the second of the two 450SX Heat races, the gate was stacked with the LS2 duo of Chisholm and Cros. Both of them were able to execute a decent start and put themselves near the top ten which left them with a realistic chance of finishing within a qualifying position, but it wouldn’t be easy. Chisholm was caught in a battle for 9th place throughout most of the race and swapped positions back and forth, eventually managing to hold on for the direct transfer to the Main Event. Meanwhile, Cros fought hard to fight his way forward a couple of positions, finishing in 13th position at the end of the Heat. The start was a crucial part of the 450SX LCQ and the three LS2 riders on the gate weren’t able to make the necessary moves in the first corner to fit into the top four. Wennerstrom spent the first few laps back in 19th position and made a bit of progress throughout the quick spring race, finishing in 17th at the checkered flag. Cros had a shot at a spot in the Main Event, but he narrowly missed out on a transfer position after battling tooth and nail for an eventual 7th place finish.
Pauli said “Going into Daytona for the sixth time in my career, I knew it was important to have an open mind on track conditions and bike setup but this year was like none other! I fought my hardest all day and enjoyed the race even though I didn’t make it in the top twenty by the end of the night, but we live again to race another day!”
“It was a crazy track; I felt like I was riding outdoors on the SX bike. In practice, I had a big crash and a bad qualifying but in the race I was feeling better every lap. I finished 13th in the heat race and 7th in the LCQ, so it was good after all. I’m motivated to keep fighting next weekend in Indy,” commented Cros.
In the 450SX Main Event, it was all about managing the conditions and limiting your mistakes and Kyle Chisholm was able to do that to the best of his ability in front of the home state fans. The Yamaha rider started back in 17th position on the opening lap and gradually made progress throughout the gnarly 18-lap Main Event, advancing up the field to an eventual 15th place finish at the checkered flag.
Chisholm stated “Daytona is always one of my favorite races of the year with the unique and difficult track and it’s also just a couple of hours down the road from my house, so it’s nice having family and friends there with me. I will admit though, I was not a fan of the track layout this year. In my opinion, it was very tight and one lined which made it tough to pass. I struggled at the beginning of the day with my bike setup but we got it working well and made it right to the Main Event from the Heat which is always nice. In the Main, I made a few mistakes early on and lost some spots but then I regrouped and made a charge back up to 15th position. It was nice to be in the top fifteen but I really want to get closer to that top ten and I just need to ride a little bit better on Saturday when it’s race day.”
Next Saturday, the Monster Energy Supercross Championship journeys to the midwest as the eleventh round of the series is set to take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.