Justin Barcia slams Malcolm Stewart as Christian Craig wraps 250 West Supercross

The 2022 AMA Supercross season finished last weekend in its new default venue for the season finale: Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. 

250SX race finish, 2022 Salt Lake City Supercross. - Yamaha Racing

SALT Lake City became popular with Supercross and its promoter, Feld, in 2020, when the Utah Sports Commission allowed Supercross to return to action following a mid-season hiatus due to the Covid pandemic. Seven races were held in Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2020 to complete a 17-round season, which saw Eli Tomac crowned champion in the 450SX class. 

Tomac was again champion in 450s this year, but although he was present in Salt Lake City, he did not race, owing to a knee injury picked up in the Atlanta heat race. 

Tomac rode in opening ceremonies, but the Denver Supercross of the weekend before Salt Lake has proven to be his final race before the 2022 Pro Motocross season gets underway at the end of May. 

As Tomac’s injury took hold of the final part of his season, Jason Anderson took control of the 450SX class in the final four races of 2022, with a 100% record since Atlanta. His form has been fantastic; he has equalled Tomac’s wins for the season, and finished within 10 points of the new champion in the end. With the possible exception of his 2018 title winning season, this has to be Anderson’s best season of 450 Supercross.

But, while Anderson was dominant once again, and Chase Sexton proved once again that he has the ability to put in a solid ride without crashing out chasing a victory that ultimately proves to be beyond him, it was the rider in third place on the 450SX podium who took the headlines.

Justin Barcia was put on probation after his move on Justin Bogle in San Diego. Bogle retaliated at his first opportunity, at the cost of a fine for himself. Barcia made a joke of his probation on his (excellent) BamTV vlog, and, for a while, all was forgotten. 

The GasGas rider was even let mostly off the hook for his move on Jason Anderson in Indianapolis which put the Kawasaki rider on the floor after Barcia pretty much aimed for where he thought his front wheel would be. Credit to Barcia, he calculated correctly, and he beat Anderson in the race, although they were all beaten that night by an overwhelming Eli Tomac. 

Going into Salt Lake City, Barcia was in a battle with fellow KTM Group riders Marvin Musquin (of Red Bull KTM) and Malcolm Stewart (of Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) for third in the championship.

After finishing third, Barcia said on the podium “Yeah, obviously the fans aren’t happy, you know. We’re racing for third in the championship, third in points, I was doing everything I could. Obviously, it was an aggressive pass, I’m gonna own that.

“I would like to think he would do the same thing, but maybe not. [...] I’m here racing for a living, and you can bring the boos, but this is me - since day one.”

Barcia was talking in reference to a move he put on Malcolm Stewart. Stewart had passed him for third in the bowl turn in the rhythm after the finish, with one of the cleanest, most precise moves you will see. He railed the inside rut with immense corner speed, and left Barcia just enough room on the outside to mean he did not have to go outside of the track, but had to chop the throttle. 

With Barcia’s track record, including in this season, the way the race unfolded in the next 20 seconds was almost totally predictable. Barcia kept Stewart within range, just as he did with Anderson in Indianapolis, and when Stewart went 1-2 in the small section after the turn going backwards down the start straight, Barcia went outside in the turn, rhythmed 2-1, and sent the single into the corner, pointed straight at the corner exit. They met with such force at the exit of the corner that Stewart was thrown from his bike. 

Although Stewart was able to close in on Barcia in the final 10 minutes of the race, the #51 was able to hold onto third place in the race, and finished on the podium. 

Barcia was met with boos with alarming immediacy from the crowd. Thinking back to Dylan Ferrandis and Christian Craig in the 250SX West race at Anaheim 2 in 2020, the reaction to Barcia in Salt Lake City last weekend made Ferrandis’ reception seem almost warm.

The result for Barcia was an awkward podium interview in which he decided to go in a different direction to his usual tactics of pretending his moves are not over the limit; immediate criticism from Adam Cianciarulo and Ricky Carmichael on the live commentary; a fine that was undisclosed but rumoured to be $3,000; and a 10-point deduction in the championship that dropped him from fourth in the championship to fifth. 

While the 450SX class was dominated by one rider, the 250SX class was won by an unlikely winner in Salt Lake City, while the eventual champion was entirely predictable. 

Hunter Lawrence came into Salt Lake City 18 points down on Christian Craig in their 250SX West title fight and, especially with Hunter Lawrence’s brother and HRC teammate Jett Lawrence ruled out through an injury, the odds were stacked in Craig’s favour. 
Lawrence led the early part of the race, and pulled away from Craig in second. Soon, it became clear that Craig was even holding up his Star Racing Yamaha teammate, Nate Thrasher, who passed him and set on after Lawrence.

Surprisingly, Thrasher was able to catch, pass, and gap Lawrence. It is strange to say about a two-time race winner that it was surprising to see them close in on a leader, but Thrasher had scored four top five finishes in his almost-two-season Supercross career, and only two of those were not wins. Additionally, Thrasher’s two previous wins came in Atlanta last year, on the only Speedway track other than Daytona on the calendar. 

Thrasher tired towards the end of the race, and Lawrence began to close back in as the Yamaha rider began to struggle in the whoops. Four laps from the end, Thrasher’s whoop speed and stability were both almost completely gone, but by the final lap he had managed to hold Lawrence at bay, and a strong run through the whoops on the final lap ensured his first victory of the season. 

The result for Thrasher makes him one of the major unknowns going into the Motocross season. If he finished between fifth and 12th every race, it would not be a total shock. If he maintained those finishes, but found a podium or a win somewhere, it would also not be a shock. And, if he ended up finishing top three in the championship, it would also not be a shock. 

Thrasher’s teammate, Craig, crashed early in the race at the end of the whoops, but rallied to finish relatively safely in seventh and take his first Supercross title. At 29, Eli Tomac was the oldest 450SX champion when he won in Denver. Craig is a year older and is only now a champion in the 250 class. While this is a curiosity, Craig’s career has been far from straightforward: it had started, stopped, and restarted before he moved to Star Yamaha in 2021. He brought them the title in 2022, and now will go to race their YZ450 in the Pro Motocross championship before he heads to Rockstar Husqvarna for 2023, presumably to replace Dean Wilson as Malcolm Stewart’s teammate. 

Although Jett Lawrence’s crash ruled him out of the Salt Lake City Supercross, it seems his injury is not too severe, and he should be able to line up to defend his 250MX number one plate in Pala at the end of the month, albeit with a possibly compromised preparation.

The AMA Supercross was not the only race to take place in Salt Lake City at the weekend. Steve Matthes’ PulpMX Yamaha LCQ Challenge race also took place on the Friday before the race. The track was dry, and Ryan Breece and Kyle Chisholm started from the second row. But that did not stop them from arriving at the front of the race by the mid-point. Chisholm won, and until the final corner Breece held second place ahead of holeshot winner Kevin Moranz. Breece got crossed up exiting the whoops, though, and Moranz was able to make a late pass for second place. 

In total, PulpMX raised over $100,000 for privateers through their LCQ Challenge race.