Supercross: A hungry Ken Roczen still has a shot at the 2020 title
When the checkers wave over the final race of the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross season, this will go down as one of the most interesting in the history of the sport. In all likelihood a new champion will be crowned after a long hiatus in the middle of the season. Ken Roczen is eager to be the top rider.
The problem is, no one knows yet when the champion will be announced.
The COVID-19 outbreak first forced the cancelation of one race, then two, and eventually an acknowledgement that the remainder of the season was in jeopardy. Or, at the very least, that the Lucas Oil Motocross season would almost certainly begin before the Supercross season ends.
For one rider, the cancelation of the remainder of the season would have been particular painful.
Roczen and Eli Tomac entered Round 10 at Daytona tied for the points lead. That tie was forced by Roczen’s win at Atlanta, just one week previous, in an event where Tomac struggled. At Daytona, Roczen got a good start and led the first 14 laps until his principal rival Tomac caught him and slipped past. Tomac led the final four laps and ultimately finished ahead of Roczen by seven-tenths of a second.
In Supercross, the difference between first and second is three points. And for a while, it appeared that might be the difference in the championship as well. Earlier this week, Supercross announced they would end the season with dates and locations still to be determined.
“No matter who wins this year we would be making history for ourself and it would be a new champion,” Roczen told NBC a few hours after it was announced the season would resume. "(Eli) has got me by one outdoor title. I’ve raced Eli for so long now. We go back pretty fricken’ far now and we just keep going after it year after year.
“There were a couple of years where I was injured and he was injured, but overall it’s cool for both of us. He has a lot of wins without actually having a title. Whoever it plays out for, it would be amazing for sure.”
Roczen won the 2014 and 2016 Motocross championships. Tomac took the last three outdoor titles from 2017 through 2019. Neither Roczen nor Tomac has a Supercross championship yet, although both have finished second.
“Eli has established himself more in Supercross than I have,” Roczen said. “I really don’t have that many wins so far. Luckily I’m still battling for the championship this year. And hopefully I’ll be able to get it.”
“There are other riders we used to race back in the day like (Ryan) Villopoto and (Ryan) Dungey. They created their dynasties, but Eli and I don’t have a Supercross title yet. It would be huge for both of us, just because we are a older, as in over 25 years old, and I don’t think anybody has got a title after 25.”
Roczen has run through the scenarios.
What would happen if Supercross returned and was completed before the outdoor season began? What it will feel like if the full Motocross season is completed before the final SX rounds are in the books?
And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Roczen sees advantages in both.
“It’s weird because we were all in race mode and now it’s all called off,” Roczen said. “It kind of feels a little bit weird at this time of the year because normally we’re in mid-season and now we’re kind of in an off-season. I was hoping after all this settles down we would finish Supercross and then start outdoors.
“The way it is right now, it is what it is, and I’m trying to take it as an advantage. I am a little better outdoors and if I do really good (in Motocross) I’m sure it will help us.”
Roczen’s approach is Zen-like. If his experience has taught him anything in his seventh Supercross season, it is patience. Riding over one’s head rarely leads to anything good. Roczen has the scars to prove that.
Hard crashes in 2017 and 2018 forced him to miss the ends of those SX seasons with shattered arms. Last year, he developed a health issue that caused him to tire in the later stages of races. He slipped to fourth at the end of the indoor season.
But he was Tomac’s main challenger for most of the outdoor season and finished second. The hunger continues to build.
This year, Roczen has three wins and eight podium finishes in 10 rounds.
Tomac has five wins, but stood on the podium only one other time.
Roczen is proud of his consistency. He believes that makes the difference between winning and losing. Ultimately, it comes down to clicking off the final laps with the perfect balance of aggression and patience.
“Right now, I’m trying to take my mind off racing for as long as I can so that I’m extra hungry when I come back,” Roczen said. “This is just such an odd time and I think we’re all just trying to adjust.
“We’re all in a weird position. Not just our sport, but other people who work (regular) jobs. At one point, the season just kept getting pushed back and pushed back. You never know if you should keep training or not. It will be interesting to see when we continue racing how people will respond to that. I’m looking at it as an advantage when I come back because I feel like I can adjust easily to situations like this. Other riders might not.”
And as for how the season ends? If Roczen cannot claim his first title: “if Eli won the championship, I’d be the least bummed.”