AMA Supercross goes to Salt Lake City with one final score to settle

Eli Tomac took the 450SX AMA Supercross title last weekend in Denver, but there is still one Supercross title to be decided this weekend in Salt Lake City.

250SX race start, 2022 Denver Supercross. - Honda Racing Corporation.

The 2022 AMA Supercross season draws to a close this weekend in Salt Lake City and, although the 450SX title was wrapped up by Eli Tomac last weekend, there is still a 250SX title to be decided.

Tomac’s season was split in two. The first part was the dominant one, both in terms of proportion and the performance of the #3. Until the heat race in Atlanta, Tomac was only matched by Jason Anderson, but the #21’s inability to remain consistent through the season meant that by round 11 in Detroit, the championship was essentially over. 

The second part of Tomac’s season was one of injury. A torn MCL in the Atlanta heat race while battling with Anderson led to a subdued couple of races in Foxborough and Denver, but it was enough for Tomac to clinch his second 450SX title. 

It is the MCL injury that will keep Tomac from racing this weekend in Salt Lake City, meaning Jason Anderson can equal Tomac’s season wins this Saturday, and get to within nine points of the Star Racing Yamaha rider. 

That is almost inconsequential for Anderson, and that is the way to describe the 450SX class ahead of this weekend: inconsequential. Sure, there are bonuses to be had for third place in the series, which will go to either Malcolm Stewart or Justin Barcia, in all likelihood, but for the most part the premier class is meaningless this weekend, and in that respect it is a relief to see AMA Pro Motocross on the horizon. 

However, there is one very important piece of the 2022 AMA Supercross season left to be completed: the 250SX West Championship.
Like Tomac’s season, the 250SX West series has been one of two parts in 2022. But, unlike Tomac’s season, those two parts have been much more evenly proportioned. 

The first half of the season, which ran from Anaheim 1 to Anaheim 3, before the series headed East to Minneapolis, was dominated by Christian Craig. There were only two races of the opening six that Craig failed to win, and it was quite easy to argue that neither of those losses were his fault. 

Craig went into the break with almost 30 points over Hunter Lawrence, who crashed in Anaheim 3’s  uncompromising whoops section. But, since then, the tables have turned. 

Lawrence has won every race he has competed in since the 250SX West class returned in Seattle, including the East-West Showdown race in Atlanta, when Craig crashed trying to chase down the HRC rider. 

Lawrence’s preparation coming into the season was compromised. He was supposed to race on the East Coast, but a crash for his brother and HRC teammate, Jett Lawrence, meant they had to make a late switch. With Hunter Lawrence relatively unprepared to race on the West, and with Colt Nichols taking himself out of the championship in the first heat race of the season, Craig’s life in the first part of the championship became relatively straightforward. 

While Jett Lawrence went into the East Coast series firing on all cylinders - to the extent that he was able to wrap the title up with one round left to go when the East Coast last raced, in Foxborough - Hunter Lawrence went into Anaheim 1 to start the West Coast having been preparing to not race for another six weeks. Had the situation gone a different way, perhaps Craig would not have an 18-point lead going into this weekend.

However, you can also argue that Craig has been managing his lead since Seattle, and that is almost certainly true. The extent of the effect that may have had on the results is impossible to tell, but if they were 20 points closer together last weekend in Denver, it certainly would have been a different race. 

The reality for Craig this weekend is that if he scores nine points he is the champion and, even with this being another Showdown race, this year’s #28 should be able to do that pretty much at a canter. Like Tomac last week, Craig needs only 14th to clinch his first Supercross title. It is hard to see any non-disastrous turn of events leading to 15th or lower for the rider who has not finished off the podium once this season. 

Such circumstances could encourage one or both of the HRC teammates to engage in some games. They need to try to force Craig into a mistake themselves to try to take the title away from him. From one perspective, Jett Lawrence should be right up for that, since his 250SX title is already wrapped up for 2022. On the other hand, he has a 250MX national title to defend this summer, so perhaps he will be looking to get himself through this one clean, with no drama, just like Craig. 

Whenever a title goes down to the final race, it creates interesting scenarios and forces you to think in ways that are unusual in racing. The same was true when Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez fought in Valencia for the 2013 MotoGP title; when Marquez fought Andrea Dovizioso for the MotoGP crown at the same venue in 2017; or when Tom Sykes and Sylvain Guintoli went into the final race of the 2014 WorldSBK season with everything still to play for. 

When Lorenzo fought with Marquez in 2013, he understood that he needed to try to back Marquez into the pack to try to force him into a mistake, or to allow the others to pass him. Something similar must be employed this weekend by one or both of the Lawrence brothers if they want to bring a second 250SX title to HRC in 2022. Not necessarily slowing Craig up, but forcing him into an error, or putting themselves in a position where they can make a dictation for themselves on the outcome of Craig’s race and championship. 

When these types of games are played in these kinds of scenarios, there is always the possibility that they can get messy. We saw it last year in a similar kind of situation when Formula One raced in Saudi Arabia, and Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided. Any games this weekend could get similarly messy, but that is also part of the game. 

Going into this weekend, you have to look at the HRC teammates with the expectation that they are going to try to make something happen. And, at the same time, you have to look at Christian Craig with the expectation that he should also have that expectation of Jett Lawrence and Hunter Lawrence.